Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain, a film portraying the events that led to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy was released in the U.S. in 2014.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, also known as the Bhopal Disaster, was one of the most terrible accidents that India, and the world, had ever seen. In 1984, a gas leak in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, killed thousands of people, and caused health afflictions to a few more thousand, many of whom are suffering even today.
This catastrophe left the entire world shaken, and brought to light the negligence that led to the deaths of so many innocent people. Let us take a closer look at the actual incident, its causes, effects, and a few facts and figures that will shed light on the extent of this tragedy.
What Exactly Happened?
In the wee hours of December 3, 1984, there was a gas leak in the Union Carbide Corporation pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. This leak destroyed thousands of innocent lives and affect people's health for generations to come. 40 tons of toxic, poisonous gas―Methyl Isocyanate―, accidentally got released from the plant, and spread throughout the city.
People all over the city woke up to severe suffocation and began to crowd the hospitals. The hospitals were under-staffed and had no proper facilities to treat MIC gas inhalation.
Doctors were under-qualified and did the best they could, to little avail―thousands lost their lives, and those who did survive, ended up with horrible physical defects or severe effects on the brain, lungs, muscles, reproductive system, and gastrointestinal system.
A little later in the day when the rest of the country found out, the devastation terrified everyone who heard about it―the streets of Bhopal were covered with corpses of human beings and animals.
Trees had turned black, and a burning smell permeated the air. Mass funerals took place, and the bodies of countless people, including children and pregnant women, as well as animals, were dumped in the river Narmada, or cremated/buried in large numbers.
Cause of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
The exact cause of the tragedy is still argued over―there are many estimates to what might have happened, and why. The Government of India claimed that slack management and lack of proper maintenance ultimately led to the disaster.
It is well agreed today that corporate negligence, under-investment, under-trained labor, lack of proper safety facilities, and poor infrastructural facilities all came together to result in the worst industrial accident in history.
Before the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, there were two other leaks in the same plant. Two trade unions had previously complained of pollution in the factory, which had resulted in the death and injuries of workers in two separate incidents. Had these incidents been taken really seriously by the management, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy might have been avoided.
In another development, it was found that scientists at UCC had earlier predicted the possibility of a disaster similar to the one in Bhopal due to the lack of appropriate safety measures. Their report was ignored at the time.
Effects of the Tragedy
Earlier, the official death toll was estimated to be around 3,790. However, several human rights organizations and hospital records have confirmed that this is not the correct number―there were over 14,000 casualties. Some died immediately, some died a couple of days later, and some succumbed in the hospitals a few weeks later.
The tragedy also left over 550,000 people with partial or chronic injuries and ailments. The effects of these ailments were seen for years after the disaster, and can be seen even today. Bhopal saw a dramatic rise in its stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates―the stillbirth rate increased by almost 300%, and the neonatal mortality rate by nearly 200%.
Hundreds of children were born with physical deformities or other problems. Even today, several innocent children suffer from the aftermath of the gas tragedy―they are born with physical or mental defects, and according to doctors, are very different from the conventional kind of deformities, making it difficult to provide appropriate treatment.
The environment was no exception―research later pointed out that the soil and water samples collected from inside and near the plant were severely polluted and were too toxic to be consumed, or to harbor any life.
UCC agreed to pay USD 470 million as compensation for the residents of the unfortunate city as settled with the Indian government. Over 550,000 people were awarded around USD 2,200 each as compensation. Union Carbide Corporation later merged with Dow Chemical Company, who purchased UCC in 2001, seventeen years after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
The exact cause of the gas leak is still unknown. While we cannot determine the exact reasons as to why it happened, we can definitely pray for those who lost their lives, and for those who lost their near and dear ones, and hope such a disaster never takes place again, anywhere in the world.