It is an agonizing tragedy that the air pollution levels in Karachi are getting extremely high, unhealthy and dangerous with each passing day. But that was an outright crime when 19 people died last month apparently due to inhaling toxic gas emanating from factories unlawfully set up within residential neighbourhoods. Nothing has been said officially, however provincial health authorities and Police suspects the illegal and unauthorised factories operating in the Ali Muhammad Goth of Keamari District could be the prime reason behind these alarming and mysterious deaths.
The tragic incidents due to toxic gas emission is not new for residents of Kemari. Two years ago, a toxic gas leakage reportedly from a cargo ship took up to 14 lives and affected more than 100 people in Kemari district. Nobody from the port ever took responsibility of that tragedy in two years and neither any report ascertaining the reason of these death was made published. It seems likely that reason of deaths in 2023 will also be never officially ascertained in coming days.
Toxic Emissions & Air Pollution
In the 2023 tragedy, the nineteen victims including 16 children showed initial symptoms of fever, sore throat and shortness of breath and later died within two week. It is important to mention that the residents of Kemari were “concerned with severe irritating smell” permeating the environment before deaths. According to the community, two factories had been constructed within their village and were creating a “foul smell” which was also “irritating their throats.”
The Sindh Health Department’s initial report pins the blame on toxic chemicals that caused “interstitial lung disease”, leading to the deaths while referring to the complaints of emissions from factories causing foul smell, throat irritation and suffocation. That has led them to shut down various factories in the area. While a District Health Officer in Kemari confirmed some deaths had occurred in the area, including some children and adults during the last two weeks and blamed it on the emission of noxious gases emitted by some illegal factories, which burn plastic, melt metals and other materials to produce various products.
The initial findings of a child’ post-mortem report prepared by five senior experts states the child reportedly died “due to noxious fumes from factories as alleged in the police reports”.
Negligence of Sepa
The role of Sindh Environment Protection Authority (Sepa) is more pathetic.
- The environment watchdog first claimed it was ignorant about the operations of these factories. Though, every factory unit requires annual certification from Sepa through a private laboratory.
- Secondly, no serious effort was made to collect evidence and traces of environmental pollution, which was initially highlighted as the cause of multiple deaths. As, when the Sepa officials arrived to collect air quality samples after the factories, blamed for toxic emissions, they had been already sealed.
- Besides, there was no effort to analyse the material and waste being used and generated by the factories and see how they could affect human lives, as the nearby factories reportedly producing iron ore that caused harmful gases.
In a related development, Sepa also found that several industries in Keamari are releasing hazardous emissions. It is a big question mark, why industrial units functioning in or near residential areas are still unchecked. Industrial zones, particularly where factories deal with hazardous material and toxic emissions, should be located far from residential areas. But the Pakistan environment protection authorities have so far badly failed to enforce this basic safety precaution.