Karachi gas leak

February 27, 2020

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MORE than 10 days have passed since what appeared to have been a mysterious gas leak claimed 14 lives and affected hundreds of others near Karachi’s port. Questions have been raised, multiple inquiries launched, and various far-fetched and probable theories floated, both in private circles and in the public domain. And yet the absence of clear answers from the concerned authorities and provincial government is baffling. With no new patients being admitted to hospitals, the incident may soon be forgotten, but it has exposed massive governance lapses. Even now, we have not ascertained the source or type of gas that led to the deaths of so many and caused some 250 people to fall sick. If the authorities cannot provide answers to questions raised by a concerned public — or worse, if they are involved in some sort of a cover-up and deliberately concealing information — it only leaves citizens vulnerable to future environmental and industrial threats, as they will be forced to make sense of one tragedy after another. One cannot help but wonder what — if any — system of industrial checks is in place, and what would the government do if an even bigger tragedy were to unfold? Or are we supposed to live according to the law of the jungle, with each citizen looking out for themselves?

Industrial accidents and gas leaks pose a constant threat to workers and the general public, and there is no room for negligence or ambiguity in such matters of life and death. Memories of the Bhopal disaster — when in 1984 a gas leak from a pesticide plant endangered the lives of 600,000 people, killing around 15,000 of them — were awakened once again. Even decades later, residents of the city continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the toxic fumes, its residue left behind in the environment and groundwater. It is not clear if any lessons from the most recent tragedy in Karachi have been learnt. Welcome to the jungle.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020