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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Edition 26: Bhopal facts and Italian Mafia


REUTERS
A court on Monday found the Indian unit of U.S. chemicals firm Union Carbide guilty of negligence and sentenced seven Indian former employees to two years in jail over one of the world's worst industrial accidents that killed thousands in 1984. Here is all that you want to know in a nutshell:

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide accidentally released about 40 metric tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the atmosphere in the central Indian city of Bhopal.

The wind carried the gas to surrounding areas -- mainly densely populated slums -- exposing around half a million people. People woke up coughing and vomiting and many reported a severe burning sensation in their eyes and chest.

Panicked residents fled the area and many died in the stampede to get as far away from the factory as possible. Doctors say those who ran inhaled more gas than those who had some means of motorised transport.



HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE AFFECTED?

The government says the disaster killed around 3,500. But activists calculate that 8,000 people died in the immediate aftermath and thousands more have died of illnesses related to gas exposure in the years that followed. They say a total of 25,000 people have died since 1984.

Activists and health workers say a further 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer chronic health problems even today. Sicknesses range from cancer, blindness, respiratory difficulties, immune and neurological disorders, female reproductive disorders as well as birth defects among children born to affected women.



WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL PROTESTING AFTER 26 YEARS?

Affected communities say the compensation given was based on government figures from the immediate aftermath that were grossly under-estimated.

They say people are still dying due to the ill effects of the gas. Survivors are demanding that Dow Chemical, which later bought Union Carbide, should pay more equitable relief to the tens of thousands who continue to suffer.

Activists and lawyers say the plant site has not been cleaned up and thousands of tonnes of toxic chemical waste have seeped into the soil over the years, contaminating groundwater that is drinking water for around 20,000 people.



WHAT ARE AFFECTED COMMUNITIES DEMANDING?

A civil case is being fought in the United States against Dow Chemical and lawyers are demanding that the company pays to clean up the site, fix the water supply and give compensation to those suffering the effects of drinking the water.

A criminal case is pending against the then CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, whom lawyers say is responsible for the disaster and the contamination of the soil and water around the factory. There is a warrant for Anderson's arrest in India.



WHAT DOES DOW CHEMICAL SAY?

Dow Chemical says it has no responsibility for Bhopal. It says it acquired its shares of Union Carbide in 2001, more than a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government.

It says efforts by activists and non-governmental organisations to try to attach responsibility and liability for the site clean-up to Union Carbide and Dow Chemical are misdirected.

It adds that it has no first-hand knowledge of what chemicals, if any, may remain at the site and what impact, if any, they may be having on the area's groundwater. The company says that when the Indian government took control of the site in 1998, it assumed all accountability, including clean-up activities



Young Guns Against Mafia In Italy



Nancy Greenleese /DW

The police in Sicily, often corrupt themselves, have failed to crack down on the Mafia. Now, a group of young people are taking charge and risking everything to win back their towns. They call themselves the children of the massacre.



On May 23, 1992, the Mafia detonated a bomb that annihilated a car carrying a magistrate who'd helped put hundreds of Mafia criminals behind bars. Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three police bodyguards were killed. Less than two months later, another bomb ripped open a car, killing anti-Mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino and his five police bodyguards. The explosions sent emotional shrapnel across Sicily.



"For us, the massacres of '92 are comparable to September 11," said Francesco Galante of the anti-Mafia group Libera Terra. "Every one of us remembers where we were, what we were doing when we heard the news."



Galante was 10 years old and at the beach with his family when the first bomb exploded. Immediately afterward, he remembers that a thunderstorm rolled in. Yet the angry skies couldn't compare to the furor of Sicilians who'd been jolted by the Mafia's brutality. It was the young people in particular who stormed the streets to protest.



During the next few years, many took the same streets in the opposite direction - to leave Sicily. They were disillusioned, convinced that the chronic unemployment and poverty the Mafia had caused were too big to conquer. However, 28-year-old Francesco Galante and other budding activists refused to leave.



"It became important to stay put and make Sicily better, to possibly bring about changes," said Galante, his mellow manner masking a steely determination.



A few years ago, he started volunteering in the anti-Mafia movement and eventually rose to his position as Libera Terra's communications director. Nearly all of his cohorts in the movement are under 35. They say they have the energy to take on the mobsters - and the guts, too.



"It is slow going and will take a long time," said Galante, "but we have the feeling that, bit by bit, something is happening."

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