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People’s Health Movement meets in Bhopal India

April 13, 2007

Painted protest on wall. Reads "Dow chemical quit India" From March 23-27, 2007, the People’s Health Movement (PHM) held a meeting in Bhopal, India, coinciding with the Indian National Health Assembly. Approximately 2000 health care practitioners, advocates and activists participated in these meetings, an important demonstration of solidarity with the continuing struggle of thousands of Bhopal families affected by the 1984 Union Carbide toxic gas disaster.

On the night of December 2, 1984, a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide leaked 27 tons of methyl isocyante gas into the Bhopal night. Half a million people were exposed to the gas. Thousands died that night, and 20,000 have died over the years as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from illnesses caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site. These health problems include: blindness; extreme difficulty in breathing; reproductive health problems including miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects; and some kinds of cancer. Click here for a detailed account.

Twenty three years after one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, the factory site has still not been cleaned up and continues leaking pesticides into Bhopal’s groundwater. Children and grandchildren of the disaster victims are born with severe birth defects. And the corporation responsible for the disaster, now owned by Dow Chemical, has not paid full compensation nor been brought to justice.

A health clinic —staffed by some survivors of the disaster—was established near the factory site to provide medical relief to the victims. An ongoing campaign has used different tactics such as marches, sit-ins, hunger strikes, and shareholder actions to bring attention to the issue, and to pressure the Indian government and corporate officials to take responsibility for compensation and clean-up.

Just a few days before the PHM meeting, a group of hunger strikers succeeded in winning new concessions from the Indian government. Read more about how hunger strikes are used in India to bring political pressure for government action.

At the close of the meeting, the PHM Steering Committee released a statement of solidarity with the gas affected people of Bhopal:

PHM Statement of Solidarity with the Gas Affected People of Bhopal

The PHM Global Steering Committee, present in Bhopal, India for the occasion of the Indian National Health Assembly, wishes to express our collective solidarity with those affected by the ongoing Bhopal gas disaster, and our concern that the ongoing health problems be resolved.

We applaud the bravery, persistence, and devotion of the “Right to Life” campaigners whose recent hunger strike has ended in victory for the people of Bhopal. We recognize that such victories are due to the concerted struggle of many organizations working for justice for Bhopal gas victims.

We are aware that this people’s campaign has resulted in promises from the Indian government to take responsibility for some of the issues of relief and rehabilitation that should have been resolved at the time of the disaster, and we sincerely hope that the state will follow through with this commitment.

In name of the People’s Health Movement, the Global Steering Committee also expresses our solidarity with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and our collective hope that Dow Chemical Corporation will accept responsibility for the disaster and for financing the clean-up that they have up to now failed to undertake. We also stand with the International Campaign in demanding the extradition and trial of Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, and petition the United States government to comply with the demand for extradition.

We thank the people of Bhopal for making us welcome in your city, and we reiterate our commitment: Health and Justice for the Gas Affected People of Bhopal, Now!