Sunday, June 15, 2008

Time on India's Deadly Chemical Addiction

"India's rural activists for years have blamed the overuse and misuse
of pesticides for a pervasive health crisis that afflicts villages
like Jhajjal across the cotton belt of Punjab. Evidence continues to
mount that the problems are severe. Last month, a government-funded
study revealed that chemical fertilizers and pesticides have seeped
into the groundwater in four Punjab districts and are causing an
alarming array of ecological and health problems including cancer and
mental retardation. A June 2005 study by the new Delhi-based Centre
for Science and Environment found residues of between 6 and 13
pesticides in blood samples of villagers from Mahi Nangal, Jajjal and
Balloh villages in Bhatinda district. Recent research by Punjabi
University at Patiala established evidence of DNA damage among
agricultural workers exposed to pesticides; damaged genes can give
rise to a range of cancers as well as neurological and reproductive
disorders. Bala, a 24-year-old day laborer, worked for two months in
the fields during the spraying season four years ago. Not long after,
her second child, a boy, was born with a neurological disorder and has
recently been diagnosed with hydrocyphalis. "His treatment is so
expensive that we have had to borrow large amounts of money...I know
he won't survive" she says. Surinder Singh, the executive director of
the rural NGO Kheti Virasat, says, "Punjab is paying with its life for
a dubious promise of prosperity," says an article in Time Magazine.

It is very sad to see that this began a very long ago with the "Green
Revolution"!! As the article says, "Punjab's lethal pesticide legacy
can be traced to the Green Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, when
high-yielding varieties of cotton were introduced in the region's
relatively arid Malwa belt. Initially the move was successful as
yields and prices were good. But farmers soon discovered that the
cotton was highly susceptible to pests, and ended up spending huge
amounts on pesticides. As the pests, such as pink bollworm and aphids,
became increasingly resistant to chemical spraying, farmers reacted by
laying on even more, sometimes mixing two or more products against all
scientific evidence. The region virtually became a chemical
laboratory. The expense of spraying put many farmers deep in debt, yet
they remain vulnerable to outbreaks such as a mealy bug attack last
year that destroyed 70% of the crop. "Earlier, we used less water,
traditional crops and organic manure. Now, it's all chemicals," says
Sarmukh Singh, a 93-year-old patriarch in Jhajjal. "We've got our land
addicted, but we don't know how to fight this addiction."

"The health impact on the region is shocking. A daily passenger train
that runs from Bathinder to Bikaner in neighboring Rajasthan is
nicknamed the "Cancer Express" because it routinely fills a dozen cars
with patients and their attendants on their way to a charitable
hospital. Despite the high incidence of cancer, there is no
government-run cancer hospital in the Malwa region, although the
government announced plans to build one last year. "Officials
sometimes visit our village, but they never seem to do anything," says
Santosh, a 35-year-old resident of Jhajjal who was diagnosed with
leukemia three years back and goes to Bikaner every six months for a
blood transfusion," says the article which was quite an eye opener for
me. As the article asks, can Punjab play with the lives of it's next
generation, really?

Read the full article at --,8599,1813081,00.html?xid=rss-world

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