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July 20, 2019

The life of a miner

Editorial

 
July 20, 2019

Pakistan’s deadly coal mines claimed the lives of at least nine miners this past Sunday. The poor state of coal mines in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been highlighted over and over again, but no action has been taken to improve health and safety facilities at the mines. On Sunday, poisonous gas accumulated in a mine in the Degari area, where around a dozen miners were left trapped thousands of feet deep. The rescue operation continued for almost two days, despite which only one of the miners could be recovered alive. While the mining minister and the chief minister of Balochistan were seen active during attempts to recover the miners, the real question is what – if anything at all – they are doing to improve safety at the mines. The Balochistan Labour Federation made it clear that both the government and the mine owners were completely clueless about what to do in terms of the rescue operation. Rescue workers could only reach 360 metres deep, whereas the trapped miners were over a kilometre deep in the mine. In this case, the mine is not far off from Quetta, at around 24 kilometres east of the provincial capital. It should be fairly straightforward for the Balochistan government to supervise what is going on and how to improve work conditions.

However, it has been made clear over and over again that no one cares for the lives of Pakistan’s coal workers. Coal mines in Balochistan claim lives on an almost daily basis in Chamlang, Luni, Low, Harnai, Sowrange and Dukki, Mach as well as other parts of the province. Most of these deaths go unreported. The Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation puts the death toll between 100 and 200 miners per year. Not only are the miners not protected, there is little compensation available for their families. In March, it was reported that as many as 164 miners had lost their lives, while another 300 had suffered serious injuries in the last year alone. Often, miners suffocate to death without enough oxygen.

With the industry employing around 300,000 miners across over 1,000 mines in the province, the need to improve safety features in the mines is urgent. The miracle is the workers who make it out alive from these death traps, rather than the ones who end up dying. Compensation remains a paltry Rs200,000 for death. On top of this, miners continue to suffer from lung, kidney and liver diseases due to the absence of clean drinking water and basic health and safety facilities. Coal mining in the province needs to be temporarily halted until safety features are improved. The lives of miners are not so cheap.

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