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Geography 2152F/G
Bharat Punjabi

Lecture 4 Bhopal Gas Disaster • Bhopal-the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh • Approx. 15,000 died over a period of time in the disaster. No precise figures. • Hundreds of thousands affected by the gas leak • Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) owned the plant which was used to manufacture fertilizer. • Warren Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide when the disaster occurred. Still “absconding” • Plant was set up during the late 1960s to help India’s Green Revolution o PRODUCED PESTICIDES FOR AGRICULTURE • Disaster unprecedented in terms of scope o No exposure to chemical gases since World War 1 o Bhopal - First mass exposure • Leak of Methyl Isocynate and other gases • Lax safety practices and cost cutting were a major reason for the disaster o Many warning signals o A lot of lessons were learned by this disaster • The 1984 disaster was preceded by the death of a worker in the Bhopal Plant in 1981 • People still are affected by this disaster today How the government managed? What did we learn from the documentary? • Structural issues highlighted: issues of power and political economy. The sheer political and economic power of a major US corporation. • The failure of the Indian state to provide adequate rehabilitation and relief to the victims • The disaster was very unique (trying to understand what to do and how to deal with this sort of disaster – especially in a poor country) • Failure at many levels: financial and health relief. • Very little payments were given for relief • The failure of the Indian and international legal system to provide redressal and relief to the victims • Even now nothing has been done to fix the disaster, future generations are being affected • The continuing tragedy of Bhopal. Victims continue to be shunned by the Indian government and are treated shabbily. 1980’s field research on failure of expertise in Bhopal • Research by S. Ravi Rajan: Associate Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz. Once an activist in Bhopal ( published in 2001) • Chapter 11 “Missing Expertise, Categorical Politics and Chronic Disasters: The case of Bhopal” in Susanna Hoffman (eds.) Catastrophe and Culture, 2001 • Three copies in the Weldon library on reserve • Based on spending a lot of time in Bhopal, and how people are able to voice their opinions Why Expertise Important? • Knowledge builds capacity to deal with disaster • Knowledge wasn’t sufficient in dealing with the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster • Opportunities to build knowledge and an information data base to deal with a chronic disaster like Bhopal were squandered. • Suffering for people and communities continues to this day Not every hazard eventually leads to disaster • The conjunction of human population and a potentially destructive agent does not inevitably produce a disaster-Susanna Hoffman, anthropologist • However, a disaster does become unavoidable in the context of a historically produced pattern of vulnerability • Given that Bhopal didn’t have many regulations, and as it was a developing country it affected them that much more severely • Bhopal was an instance of such a pattern of vulnerability - wasn’t a developing country Missing Expertise, Categorical Politics and Chronic Disasters • The idea of missing expertise concerns civil administration and other institutions of the state. It refers to the phenomenon wherein the production of the potential for risk is not matched by a concomitant creation of expertise and institutions with the wherewithal to help mitigate a crisis, should one ensue • India welcomed this company to place it in their country, however they did not exercise reducing the risks of putting the company there • Called a chronic disaster – disaster that is still going on th • Bhopal and Chernobyl ( to be done on the 12 of October)are two examples of disasters where research has identified some degree of what one could term as “missing expertise” Categorical Politics*EXAM* • The phrase “categorical politics” concerns the civil society and in particular civil society organizations. It refers to forms of political intervention that are driven solely by framing political problems via some over arching structural analysis, and that either ignore or dismiss phenomena that are not visible through their theoretical lens. • The social movement fighting for the rights of the gas victims adopted such an approach Bhopal: Disaster response exacerbated pain and suffering Missing Expertise can be classified under three categories: 1. Contingent • Contingent Expertise refers to an administration’s preparedness to respond immediately and effectively to a potential hazard • It is concerned with the conscious adaptive mechanisms and institutions built by governments prior to cataclysmic events • Such institutions include warning systems, evacuation procedures and other measures that help mitigate the societal impact of the disaster in the immediate aftermath Instances of the failure of contingent expertise • The state government of Madhya Pradesh was unable to evacuate the population from the scene of the gas leak despite a policy decision to do so after the accident had been confirmed. • They could have conveyed the message to the people of Bhopal for an evacuation on radio. • For example, a simple announcement suggesting that people cover their faces with wet cloth could have prevented considerable injury. • It took forty hours for the Government to set up a meeting of civil servants and heads of departments to set up the first coordination meeting of secretaries and heads of departments • In the meantime, more than two thousand animal carcasses littered the streets and houses and posed a severe public threat • The Indian Army which was deployed by the state government to evacuate the stricken area on the night of the disaster, made a heroic attempt, but was quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and the absence of a rehearsed method to cope with it. • In the case of hurricanes, famines and floods, state governments have been able to handle such disasters reasonably efficiently because there was a prior recognition of potential threats and a concomitant setting up of reactive mechanisms in addition to training. • Such recognition and institution building, in turn was a consequence of the politicization of vul
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