Our shower leaks (yes, at the Sambhavna Clinic we have our own shower, the whole situation is slightly absurd…). This is annoying the part of me that can’t switch off the part of my brain which notices the constant dripping noise, but there’s something that makes this drip much more significant. This is the reason it upsets me. The water in our taps is sourced from Kolar Reservoir and is therefore free from contamination, if not necessarily clean – you drink it filtered. In the midst of mass contamination, much cleaner water is dribbling away down our drain.

I know that Josh already mentioned the lack of both “non-contaminated” and actually clean water in Bhopal in his most recent blog. However, having just read an appalling government report from 2008, approved and financed by the Department of Gas Tragedy, Relief and Rehabilitation (Madhya Pradesh), plus having found out that as recently as November 2009 the State Minister from the same department announced plans to open the Union Carbide site to the public for general tourism with the statement “this is to help people get rid of the misconception that chemical waste inside is still harmful or that chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities”, I wanted to expose some abysmal research, some outright lies, and generally expand on the whole issue a bit more. In other words, this is a rant that for once isn’t by Josh…

The report is called An Epidemiological Study of Symptomatic Morbidities in Communities Living Around Solar Evaporation Ponds and Behind Union Carbide Factory, Bhopal. Let me break down its argument for you. It basically claims that there is no connection between the “toxicants alleged to be found” on the Union Carbide site and people being chronically ill in the surrounding areas. This is due to the toxicants’ “absence in the groundwater”. Despite the fact that all studies after 1996, both governmental and non-governmental, have found that the groundwater is contaminated, these researchers claim that “no cause effect relationship between toxic substances present in Union Carbide premises and morbidities seen in the study area could be established”. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2009 highlights that in the soil, surface water and groundwater, they found the pesticides carbaryl (trade name Sevin) and aldicarb (Temik), mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, dichlorobenzene, trichlorobenzene, hexachlorobenzene and hexachlorocyclohexane. You can probably guess from the names of the latter that they’re not good news – together, the group can cause liver damage, damage immune, neurological, reproductive, developmental and respiratory systems, mess up your brain, screw up your digestive system and generally make people ill. That’s a shortened version of the list. The World Health Organisation doesn’t have a guideline for ‘Total Amount of Pesticides’ in its drinking water guidelines, opting instead for a chemical-by-chemical analysis, but presumably an average of 0.006 ppm, which is 12 times the Bureau of Indian Standard, is a tad high?

I hasten to add that 2009 was not the first time that these chemicals had been found – sevin, for instance, was detected in groundwater in 1994. However, according to the Epidemiological Study, all problems are basically because these people are too poor and too stupid to not get ill. They blame “filth, water fecal contamination, mosquitoes and flies”, which will certainly play a part in people’s ill health, but they absolutely deny any link between the cocktail of poisons in the water and ground and the continued suffering of the people.

Their most astonishing claim is that “it has been observed that some of the local groups are spreading misleading information among the residents of the study area that the toxic substances present in the water are damaging to their health. This statement repeated time and again made the people believe that they are sick and the cause of the sickness is contaminated water.” What a brilliant get-out clause! Put it all down to the placebo effect, and blame the local activists! Presumably the Madhya Pradesh government is part of this damaging smear campaign falsely accusing the water of being contaminated as well, since they had all groundwater pumps in the area painted red in warning? And the Supreme Court must be in on the propaganda too, since they ordered that clean water be provided to the residents of affected communities in 2004? I’d like to add here that the Madhya Pradesh government ignored this ruling until there were two marches across the country from Bhopal to Delhi to demand that they provide water. Josh has already explored how ineffective that has been. In fact, the study itself points out that the Sambhavna Trust did an investigation in 2005 that showed 881,500l of water would be required for a community based on UNESCO standards of water consumption (50l/person/day), but only 151131l were provided by tankers (730369l shortfall). Presumably no more than a fifth of the required water can be being provided even now, with 30 minutes every other day if you’re lucky..? Never fear, though, because the Bhopal Municipal Corporation claims to provide 45.3l per person per day, so it must all be alright! I also presume that as the Bhopal Municipal Corporation consistently claims they provide this amount of water, the people only think they don’t have enough because of these damned activists.

What is more disgusting about the study is that they cite the fact that only a small proportion of those they referred to hospital actually went as proof that they must have not really been ill in the first place. “Out of 150 or so referred persons only 24 visited the hospital”. Obviously they must be making up their complaints if they don’t go to the hospital when referred: why else would they not go? It probably has nothing to do with the fact that few people have the time to visit a clinic if they are having to work a 12 hour day to have enough money to eat, or that people do not have the money to pay for treatments from other hospitals nor for that matter the money to get to hospital in the first place, or that government hospitals have a rather bad reputation here… It’s just these pesky activists duping the stupid locals into telling the valiant researchers that they are ill when they aren’t. Well, I say “they” as though each individual was asked, as you might expect would be the case in a scientific experiment. It wouldn’t be the case that researchers would ask a young boy questions about his mother’s menstrual cycle; that would be absurd. How should he know? If that was standard practice in a study such as this it would probably discount much of what they concluded, right? In any case, “investigators have notice [sic] that the water in large quantity is being wasted” so that’s probably the main problem. If only these stupid slumdwellers would learn, eh?

Sarcasm aside, I just thought I should vent my rage that bullshit like this can come out of supposedly prestigious medical colleges (Ghandi Medical College, Bhopal) – it so obviously serves simply to cover up the stark realities of life here in Bhopal. The most appalling sentences are those which describe the Union Carbide site itself as an idyllic paradise – there are people “enjoying bath [sic] in piped water supply… The area around the evaporation ponds was lush green with local wild grass and buffalos cooling off in the rain water lodged in the solar evaporation ponds”. I wonder whether the researchers would have been happy to “cool off” in the evaporation ponds. More likely they went home to cool off in under their air conditioning after washing themselves thoroughly and changing their clothes because they had been near so many poor people.

This study very clearly demonstrates the ongoing collusion between supposed ‘professionals’ and a government which has consistently secured the interests of itself and of corporations over the interests of its people. In an interview a few days ago, Sathyu said that he thinks the campaign has gone beyond convincing people that there is contamination on the site. Since the CSE report, which hopefully succeeded in setting the record a bit straighter, I really hope he’s right.