Sunday June 04, 2023

Forgotten deaths

February 27, 2020

As a nation we have become so accustomed to deaths, suffering and disaster that we barely notice it. Just over a week ago at least 14 people died mainly in the Kemari area of Karachi, apparently after inhaling an unknown gas which caused serious respiratory distress and related problems. Hundreds of other persons were affected with a large number of them falling unconscious and being rushed to hospital outside the Kemari area. Yet many days later the story has virtually disappeared. We still do not know why these people died or what the source of the toxic gas was. We also do not know if autopsy which could provide important information regarding the poison was carried out and if so what the results were.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster which caused panic especially in the affected areas of Karachi, members of government and senior scientists had suggested soybean grain and its improper unloading could be the cause of the problem. However, doctors have more or less ruled out this possibility. The mystery then remains an unsolved one. The danger of this is that the problem will remain unresolved and could resurface.

What is more problematic is that we appear simply not to care. One reason for this undoubtedly is that the persons who died came from low-income communities and in the eyes of many of us had almost no standing as human beings. We have seen precisely the same attitude before. It is very likely the response would have been entirely different had the unknown gas hit a different part of Karachi and affected those who were more affluent and better able to voice their complaints through the media. This is one of the tragedies of our country. The gas leak itself was undoubtedly a serious problem which needed investigation. The fact that we have almost instantly forgotten about the tragedy says a great deal about our social structure, governance within it and also the media. While the media is quick to criticize others, it must also remember its own responsibility to people and its duty to put information before people. In many ways any information about the gas leak and the nature of the substance is more important than the meaningless political statements or sensationalized anecdotes which are spread across our electronic and print media. The number of deaths means that at least 14 families had been permanently affected. This makes up scores of individuals. We should be attempting to discover the reasons rather than completely abandoning the victims and putting aside, possibly forever, the horrifying events which occurred in Karachi over a 24-hour period.