|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on December 14, 2017 at 6:50 AM|
Coal Corridor in Goa
I remember the glorious monsoons in Goa and the River Sal overflowing with raw red spillage owing to the iron mining. I remember a time when my father met an old man who said, ‘Baab, mugelo natu poir gora ehla.’ My father said, ‘Tho boro asa mure (is he well)?’ The old man, with a certain amount of shy pride, nodded and said, ‘Thennem maka oklam hadlim, bhair san (he has brought me spectacles from abroad),’ and from his shirt pocket withdrew a pair of thick Mahatma Gandhi bifocals and put them on just for the occasion. He was too humble to wear them every day.
From our front porch, they both looked into the distance over the contrasting green fields and the overflowing river, and the old man said, ‘I have never seen the rivers run red.’ My father just nodded. ‘It reminds me of a priest's sermon once, long ago, about the blood running in the River Nile,’ the old man said. My father put his head down. I wondered as a child if he was embarrassed, as I know now that it was my mother’s properties that were being mined at the time in Betul (inlet of the River Sal), or if he was just wondering why I was listening to the ramblings of this old goat. That was then, I remember.
Today Goa faces another killer in the form of a coal hub. Coal has a long, wicked history of causing lingering painful deaths. When Margaret Thatcher shut down the coal mines (for whatever political machinations of the time), notwithstanding the disastrous economic effects on the communities involved, it resulted in a new generation that was free from the horrors of lung disease.
The World Health Organisation reports the following diseases related to air pollution:
Acute lower respiratory infections:
Household air pollution causes more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under five years of age.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD):
Household air pollution exposure is a risk factor, and possibly, the most important cause of COPD in non-smoking populations.
A consistent body of evidence shows that individuals exposed to smoke from biomass and coal fires for cooking and heating have an elevated risk of lung cancer.
Fine particles (PM 2.5) can penetrate deep in the lungs and enter the blood causing cardiovascular disease such as ischaemic heart disease and stroke.
Epidemiological studies provide strong evidence that household air pollution exposure is associated with cataract formation and maybe responsible for up to one quarter of the total disease burden.
Other adverse health outcomes:
Asthma, ear and upper respiratory infections, tuberculosis, nasopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers, cervical cancers, low birthweight, and stillbirths.
Growing up in Goa in the 60s, I remember these diseases having no apparent causes, and the doctors were just as flummoxed as the afflicted individuals. People avoided marrying into those families as just as much as they avoided marrying into a family with known forms of madness (pisai/pishponn). Families virtually died out unless a girl was married off far away, or a boy was brought from far away to become a ghor zamvhoim (a son-in-law who lives in his wife’s family home) and was unknowingly strapped with the burden. The cause, as I see it today, was that people got wealthier and everybody rushed to build houses with indoor kitchens which never had enough ventilation for wood burning. The tsule (cooking area) was shown off with great pride as the ever abiding love for a mother from her hard working tarvotti (seafarer) or bhair san ehla (working abroad) son. Alas, the 70s were riddled with all of the above diseases and left people wondering, saying, ‘Baigo, ammi zalear kednaim aikom nam, esso duyence (we’ve never heard of such an illness)!’
The Scientific American published following headline ‘Coal-fired power in India may cause more than 100,000 premature deaths annually’ based on an article by Lisa Friedman (The article was reproduced from the ClimateWire, 11 March 2013).
Friedman writes: ‘…as many as 115,000 people die in India each year from coal-fired power plant pollution, costing the country about $ 4.6 billion. In addition to more than 100,000 premature deaths, it links millions of cases of asthma and respiratory ailments to coal exposure. It counts 10,000 children under the age of 5 as fatal victims...’
In 2017 an individual's (Adani) money is still more important than the nation losing billions or its children's future. I do not pretend to be in absolute command of all the figures regarding the prosperity and infrastructural needs of Goa. With that being said, Milan Kundera comes vividly to mind – ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’. I cannot help wondering that if a population decimation in proportion to the figures above does strike our island paradise, what would be the use of all the wealth in the world with no one left to enjoy it.
© Cheiron Coelho 19-11-2017