Last night Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, spoke passionately about the global health crisis on Bill Moyer's excellent NOW series on PBS. Gates attributed U.S. ignorance about world suffering (eg. measles: 30-40 million annual cases; 777,000 annual deaths; Tetanus: 309,000 annual deaths, a good portion of which are children) in part, to the invisibility of stories on the media. "My seven year old daughter saw a picture of a boy with polio and wanted to do something about him right away," he said, (and I paraphrase), " people need to see the suffering in order to be motivated to do something about it." (see: http://www.pbs.org/now/science/gates.html
Well two days ago, in Midland, Michigan -- just up the road from Lansing -- occurred a world significant health event that went unreported in most Michigan media, save for the Detroit Free Press (see http://www.freep.com/money/business/chem8_20030508.htm
Eight days into a hunger strike, three Bhopal activists, including two women survivors of the world’s worst chemical disaster in Bhopal, India met with top executives of Dow Chemical, the new owners of Union Carbide, whose facility caused the estimated 10,000 - 20,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of injuries and ruined lives. They addressed Dow shareholders at Dow’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), in Midland. The survivors demanded that the company take responsibility for the health consequences and environmental impacts of their operations in Bhopal and other communities poisoned by Dow and its subsidiaries elsewhere. Read their press statement here:
http://www.bhopal.net/May2003AGMpressstatement.html To learn more about the issues visit: http://www.bhopal.net/welcome2.html
Significantly, they brought their case directly to Dow Chairman and CEO William Stavropoulos in a private 20 minute meeting on May 8th.
I spoke with one of the hunger strikers today, veteran activist Satinath Sarangi. He sounded very tired from his travels and lack of food.
It was demoralizing," said Sarangi, " he sat there with a wooden face while six of us made our points. When he first sat down he said that his daughter-in-law is Indian, but then said nothing till the end when he arose saying, 'We have no responsibility. That was a different company. Go talk to your government. . .'"
But the Indian government holds Dow's Union Carbide accountable for "culpable homicide." And Union Carbide Is Dow now. And they have now mercilessly escaped justice now for twenty years.
Sarangi was encouraged by a Wall Street Journal article this week that correctly detailed many of the issues (though it had one important error): http://www.bhopal.net/wallstreetjournal08052003.html
Sarangi and two other hunger strikers -- Mrs. Rasheeda Bee and Mrs. Champa Devi -- are on a month-long educational tour of the United States. Rasheeda has had six people in her family die of cancer. Champa lost her husband to the tragedy and her son was so severely exposed that after a while he committed suicide. They have been very busy. See their schedule:
Earlier this month Bee and Devi visited Plaquemine, Louisiana, site of a major alleged vinyl chloride contamination of the aquifer from Dow's Chemical Plant there. See: http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Polyvinylchloride/Dow-Vinyl-Chloride-Plaquemine14aug02.htm
"We were there to meet with Dow impacted communities," said Sarangi, "basically there are people living in trailer parks and now the government wants them to leave the place. Dow denies that it had anything to do with it."
The Bhopal activists demonstrated at the Bull on Wall Street last week and "sat in Union Square by the Ghandi statue." While in New York they attended an American Spiritual Values conference at CUNY and met with actor Danny Glover ("who took the time with us and will be there in Washington, DC with us." Glover is on the Board of "Yes" (an environmental magazine).
In Washington they expect to meet with Michigan Representative John Conyers as well as Ralph Nader.
I asked how the hunger strike was going. "Well, we are drinking water," he reassured me. To date, more than 130 individuals have joined the fast, thirteen indefinitely.
Their month-long educational venture is being supported by several groups including the Association for Indian Development which has a chapter in Ann Arbor. On May 26th they will attend AID's annual conference and then soon leave for the U.K. where they will meet with the Amnesty International Secretariat, making the point that human rights abuses do not only occur by governments but by corporations.
In Michigan, significant support has been given by Tracy Easthope and the Ecology Center as well as the "Justice for Bhopal," a student group at the University of Michigan. See there web site at:
The Dow/Bhopal connection is an excellent Michigan issue to "think globally, act locally."
Hey, if Bill Gates can start talking about global health issues, we can certainly do a better job. . . .