Mystery gas

 
February 19, 2020

The death of at least 14 people in a mysterious gas leak near the Keamari area in Karachi is a human tragedy that could have been prevented. On Sunday, the people in Keamari’s Railway Colony...

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The death of at least 14 people in a mysterious gas leak near the Keamari area in Karachi is a human tragedy that could have been prevented. On Sunday, the people in Keamari’s Railway Colony felt sick, apparently after inhaling poisonous gases. According to reports, the medical facilities at KPT Hospital were inadequate to respond to such an emergency and the victims had to go to other hospitals such as Ziauddin Hospital and Kutiyana Memon Hospital. The leakage continued throughout Monday and in 24 hours the death toll had reached eight while the number of unconscious patients also increased to over a hundred. The response from the KPT authorities was laggardly and most people were left to their own devices to face the menace of this mysterious gas leak. Till the time of writing this editorial on Tuesday, very little had come by way of official clarification regarding this very serious incident.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest port and handles dozens of ships and thousands of containers on a daily basis. In a month the traffic of containers coming in and going out of the Karachi port is in millions. All this requires a substantial storage capacity in and around the port area and the living quarters for those many who live and work in the surrounding colonies. Over the decades, because of lapses in town planning and negligence of house building control, the residential areas and warehouses have come in close proximity. The unsuspecting denizens of these areas have no protection against fumes emanating from store houses and underground storage facilities. There appears to be no check on health, safety, and environment protocols on the companies that operate in that area, neither do they offer any warning in case of an emergency. In this case, there has as yet been confirmation on the nature of leakage or the toxicity and nature of the fumes.

It is unfortunate that the concerned authorities spring into action only when something tragic has happened or is about to happen. It is a standard practice the world over that air and seaports have well-equipped hospitals not only to cater to the medical needs of the people living and working in and around ports but also to serve as emergency treatment centres in case of any unforeseen mishaps. In the case of Pakistan, the largest port of the country is being neglected in terms of health, safety, and environment (HSE) matters. This recent tragedy should serve as a wake-up call to all concerned authorities – both federal and provincial – to put their house in order and prevent such tragedies from happening again. We must also urge government officials – at the centre, in Sindh as well as city officials from Karachi – to understand that at such moments empathy and clear and open communication with the people goes a long way in mitigating fear and panic. Unfortunately, we did not see that these past two days.



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