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India India: victims of the Bhopal disaster succumb to the coronavirus

11:00  30 may  2020
11:00  30 may  2020 Source:   lepoint.fr

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Victims of a horrifying 1984 gas leak in the Indian city of Bhopal , who have long suffered the debilitating fallout of the world's worst industrial disaster , are now dying from the novel coronavirus , with relatives and activists accusing the government of abandoning them and withholding treatment.

Bhopal ( India ) (AFP). Victims of a horrifying 1984 gas leak in the Indian city of Bhopal , who have long suffered the debilitating fallout of the world's worst industrial disaster , are now dying from coronavirus , with relatives and activists accusing the government of abandoning them and

Rassemblement pour commémorer la catastrophe de Bhopal en décembre 2018 en Inde © Gagan Nayar Rally to commemorate the Bhopal disaster in December 2018 in India

Victims of the deadly gas leak in the Indian city of Bhopal, in 1984, die now coronavirus after having endured, for years, the consequences of one of the worst industrial disasters in the world.

L'entrée du Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, le 27 mai 2020 à Bhopal, en Inde © Gagan Nayar The entrance to the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center, May 27, 2020 in Bhopal, India

A toxic cloud had escaped from a tank of the pesticide plant of the American group Union Carbide, killing instantly 3,500 people in this city in central India. In the years that followed, some 25,000 others died.

Manifestation pour commémorer la catastrophe de Bhopal en décembre 2014 à Bhopal, en Inde © INDRANIL MUKHERJEE Demonstration to commemorate the Bhopal disaster in December 2014 in Bhopal, India

Today, these victims represent a significant proportion of the number of people who died from the new coronavirus in Bhopal: at least 20 out of 45, according to government figures.

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A group of 400 survivors of the Bhopal disaster have been protesting Obama's visit to India . The 1984 Bhopal industrial gas disaster left an estimated Dow has faced calls to clean up the contaminated site, increase compensation for victims , and fund studies to assess damages to the environment and

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For activists and families, the number would even rise to 37.

Naresh Khatik, 52, was one of them. Her son Gaurav told AFP that her father had suffered from lung damage since the disaster.

The Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Center (BMHRC), a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to patients suffering from the consequences of this toxic gas leak, refused to treat him.

L'usine de pesticide du groupe américain Union Carbide en novembre 2014 à Bhopal, en Inde © INDRANIL MUKHERJEE The pesticide plant of the American group Union Carbide in November 2014 in Bhopal, India

Located on the outskirts of the city, it was requisitioned in March by the state government of Madhya Pradesh to treat patients with the virus.

This decision created "a lot of confusion" and delayed care, said Mr. Khatik.

Due to a lack of transport linked to confinement, "people have lost a lot of time going from one hospital to another (...) and many have died," said the 20-year-old man.

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Opération de désinfection d'un immeuble à Bhopal, le 15 avril 2020 en Inde © Gagan Nayar Building disinfection operation in Bhopal, April 15, 2020 in India

The BMHRC refused to welcome people considered non-positive for Covid-19 even if they presented symptoms, according to detractors .

The other hospitals also refused to treat them, the staff claiming that they did not have the equipment required to treat the illnesses linked to the disaster.

"If there hadn't been such confusion around the Bhopal Memorial Hospital, my father would certainly still be alive," said Mr. Khatik.

Finally admitted to a private hospital, he tested positive when his health deteriorated. He died a few hours later, leaving his family without income and with a medical debt of more than 1,000 euros.

- "Nightmare" -

Activists accuse the government of having abandoned the victims of the disaster, very vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their fragile health.

"We alerted him to the fact that if they did not take measures to protect them, many victims of the gas leak would die from the Covid-19 ... but he did not take it into account" , deplores Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Information and Action Group.

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Like Mr. Khatik, Gulnaz, a 35-year-old housewife, experienced a "nightmare" when her stepfather Riyazuddin, who had suffered from breathing problems since the disaster, complained of breathing difficulties.

"We had to fight," she said, saying that four hospitals, including the BMHRC, refused to care for the 65-year-old man.

He finally entered the Hamidia public hospital, where he tested positive. And "he died in the evening," says Gulnaz, who only gives his first name.

The authorities finally reversed their decision regarding the BMHRC but too late for many patients, according to Ms. Dhingra.

This activist estimates that five victims of the disaster died from the coronavirus because they were not taken care of by the hospital.

For the high commissioner for health of Bhopal, Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, "only one case of refused patient is proven".

More than 35 years after the disaster, this city of 1.8 million inhabitants remains traumatized.

According to government statistics, at least 100,000 people living near the plant have suffered from chronic diseases, including kidney or respiratory problems or cancer.

The American group paid 470 million dollars (422 million euros), according to an agreement dating from 1989, but that only made it possible to compensate some 5,000 people, according to the militants.

The director of the department responsible for the victims of this tragedy, Ved Prakash, told AFP that thermal screening is now carried out on the victims of the disaster showing symptoms of the virus or being vulnerable.

But for him, they should rather "be screened" because "when they show symptoms, it is too late".

"The whole system has collapsed and the most vulnerable are paying it with their lives," he said.

str-vm-amu / grk / jah / juf / bfi

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