Canary in the coalmine

February 17, 2020

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DEEP inside the caves of KP and Balochistan, thousands of coal miners toil in search of ‘black gold’ day in and day out. Often wearing only helmets with torchlights, the poorly trained miners have little safety equipment and are at risk of contracting various illnesses from constant exposure to coal dust, heat, noise and chemicals. While some lose their eyesight, develop musculoskeletal disorders or cannot work because of injuries from accidents, others die from inhaling toxic fumes or from suffocation or burns when the mines collapse on them after an explosion. They receive little to no compensation by their employers, many of whom are connected to power and who exploit the miners’ poverty and lack of voice in society for a meagre wage. On Friday, members of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation gathered outside the Quetta Press Club to demand better working conditions and safety equipment. Just a few days earlier, four miners had been killed when a landslide struck a mine in Dukki. According to the union, there have been around 16 deaths of miners in the past two months alone. In 2018, over 160 coal miners were killed, while approximately 300 others suffered serious injuries.

Unfortunately, the death of a coal miner — or even hundreds of deaths — rarely makes headlines or leads to any concern amongst the vast majority of people or their elected representatives. Instead, it is passively accepted as being the nature of the work. The tragedy of coal miners simply illustrates how greed triumphs over human life and dignity. At a time when much of the world is moving away from coal due to its disastrous implications for the environment, successive Pakistani governments have been showing greater interest in this sector. As a result, coal is one of the largest industries in the country. It is a good time as any to remember this is only made possible on the backs of the miners.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2020