The Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world's worst industrial disaster, should serve as a grim reminder to people about the perils of using toxic chemicals in factories, including disability suffered by many children post the leak, a top official of a UN body said Monday.
This year marks the 34th anniversary of the disaster that claimed the lives of over 15,000 people after methyl isocyanate leaked on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in that city.
More than five lakh people were affected due to the toxic leak and many children were born with deformities post the disaster.
"As we mark the anniversary of one of the world's worst industrial disaster, let the Bhopal tragedy serve as a grim reminder of the perils of using toxic chemicals in industrial plants, as the leak's ill-effects were also transmitted to the next generation, with children born with congenital deformities," Al-Amin Yusuph, Advisor for Communication and Information, UNESCO India office in New Delhi, told PTI.
He said this on the sidelines of an event held here to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons, a United Nations sanctioned day, which aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of such people.
Thirty-four years after the tragedy, survivors continue to demand proper rehabilitation and adequate compensation, besides proper medical treatment for ailments caused by the toxic leak.
Moulshri Joshi, a Delhi-based architect and an expert on industrial heritage, said the factory site evokes "painful memories" but it needs to be preserved, as the "physicality of the plant" is equally important for the next generation to see, and learn from.
"We won a competition in 2005 to design the Bhopal tragedy memorial to be built by the MP government. We understand the site evokes unpleasant memories, but that is how it should be. Some memorials should make us cry and think, rather than just being a sanitised memorial space," she told PTI.
Joshi, in 2011, was part of a team that gathered in Bhopal near the industrial site fro a conference, including researchers from foreign universities, and documents the disaster and its industrial heritage.
"So, a publication titled -- Landscapes of Memories -- was brought out. UCIL site is equally important to understand the narrative of the tragedy. When we did the workshop, we also involved ex-employees of the factory, survivors and local representatives," she said.
The architect said many people were initially upset, but then the government eventually realised the importance of the factory remnants in telling the tragic story.
"We have submitted an over 600-page detailed project report on bioremediation of the factory site, using special plants that suck toxic elements from soil and water. If we do not want another Bhopal tragedy, we need to tell the next generation what it was," she said.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), was the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb exploded on August 6, 1945.
"Not only is it a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind; but also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons," according to the UNESCO.
The 1984 Bhopal tragedy and its aftermath are of global importance. The abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal is a repository of history and stories that need to be told and retold, she said.
The factory, spread over 67 acres, was built in 1969 and it is part of India's industrial heritage, she said, adding that the memorial will also talk about the perils of toxic chemical like methyl isocyanate.
"It is of immense importance, globally, as the tragedy prompted different laws on industrial safety in other countries. And, it in fact, should be a UNESCO heritage site. The memorial should tell the next generation about the grim past, as it tells them in Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. We cannot run away from it," Joshi said.
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