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MOF&G Cover Winter 2004-2005
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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2004/2005English Editorial   
 Twenty Years After Bhopal: Only Organic Farming Minimize

By Jean English, Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

Twenty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1984, the Union Carbide chemical pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, exploded. The world’s worst chemical disaster killed tens of thousands and injured more than half a million. Forty-one tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas, used to formulate the insecticide Sevin, crept through poor neighborhoods of Bhopal following the explosion; to this day, 150,000 people continue to suffer with coughs, cataracts, gynecological disorders, poor growth and more.

Dominique LaPierre and Javier Moro wrote a fascinating account of events leading to building the chemical plant; of Carbide personalities involved and their various motives; of lives of individuals and communities around the plant. Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (Warner Books, 2002) is a timely read, as Bhopal survivors try to get Dow Chemical Corp. (which acquired Union Carbide, and its assets and liabilities, in 2001) to take some responsibility for the company’s lethal and otherwise harmful errors. It’s a story of the Not-So-Green Revolution; of peasants forced off the land; of heroes among the peasants and health care workers; of life in India colliding, exploding, with the culture of Carbide; of warnings ignored. You can learn more about the disaster and about the Pesticide Action Network’s efforts to get Dow to address Carbide’s outstanding criminal liabilities at www.bhopal.net. You can also sign a petition to the Indian Ambassador to the United States demanding justice for the victims of Bhopal.

Terry Allan, a MOFGA member, former employee at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and author of articles for The MOF&G, learned about Bhopal first hand in 1987. “I was in India for the first time after being in the Peace Corps. I was interested in looking at a big hydroelectric project and talking to people. I had to go through Bhopal.” While she had known about the 1984 explosion, “it didn’t really register that it was anything big – until I saw it. I thought, ‘This is a huge disaster. It’s important.’ It’s another reason why I thought: ‘Only organic farming.’”

Allan stayed in touch with people she had met in Bhopal, writing letters on their behalf, sending money occasionally, and hosting residents of Bhopal when they visited the United States. In 1995, Sathyu Sarangi started the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal to help survivors. In 1999, he visited the United States and talked with Allan about having a medicinal plant garden associated with the clinic.

“I was excited,” Allan relates. She had worked with development groups before and knew about problems that can arise, but the Bhopal survivors’ group inspired her confidence through its financial efficiency and its integrity.

In 2003, Allan began her three-year, volunteer commitment to establish the garden there.

“The first year we started from nothing. We got fencing, dug a well, found sources of manure and made compost.” Last year, the first big planting occurred in October. Plants harvested in February and March 2004 are now being used by the clinic, and the “first real monsoon plantings” followed.

Ingredients supplied from the garden had previously been purchased on the open market by the Ayurvedic doctor at the clinic. The doctor gave Allan a list of 70 to 80 plants and quantities needed. “Not all can be grown in Bhopal’s semi-tropical climate,” says Allan. She added plants grown for medicinal teas, and common sense folk remedies for common ailments, ending up with about 125 species, half woody, the rest herbaceous. The garden ensures quality, organic plants and educates local people so that they may now make their own medicines.

Neem trees are planted around the garden, for example. People eat the fresh leaves to boost their immune systems. “Survivors’ lungs were damaged [by the Union Carbide explosion], so they get colds, flu and TB easier,” Allan explains, but their habit of eating new leaves from Neem and other plants when the seasons are changing helps.

Ashwagandha is another example. The root, a general system tonic, is given with shilajit, “a molasses-like goop that comes out of cliffs in the high mountains in Nepal,” to support the immune system, especially for people recovering from TB. Ayurvedic medicine and herbs help support people while they take powerful antibiotics for TB, and afterwards; they help with side effects of the antibiotics, and boost the immune system.

Allan mentions Lepidium sativa, garden cress, as well. “The seeds are used in Ayurvedic medicine to help women after they are pregnant; they’re a source of iron. [Bhopal] survivors have problems with iron deficiency.” Cress also helps stimulate the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers.

You can see photos of Allan’s gardens and her journal desribing their growth at http://bhopal.org/index.php?id=46. Those helping the Bhopal survivors (many of whom are survivors themselves), and people like Allan, LaPierre and Moro are the essence of my faith.

Meanwhile, Warren Anderson, Chairman of Union Carbide when the plant blew, has an Interpol warrant out against him, as well as complaints filed against him by victims’ organizations. He retired to Vero Beach, Florida, in 1986, but his whereabouts are not publicly known now. Keep your eyes open. You never know: Maybe he’s wintering in Wytopitlock. His photo is posted at www.bhopal.net, as is a hotline to report sightings.

And Dow Chemical Corporation, according to the Pesticide Action Network’s Pesticide Trespass Index, is responsible for an estimated 80% of the U.S. population’s body burden of another insecticide: the organophosphate chlorpyrifos. Some things are slow to change, but more and more people are coming around to Allan’s way of thinking: Only organic farming!


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