01 November 2017

FEATURED A year after shipyard explosion, Gadani workers await authorities to deliver

GADANI: Soomri Khan, 50, was at her ramshackle hut in a village near Gadani Mor when she heard the explosion that took away the lives 29 workers at the Gadani shipbreaking yard on November 1 last year.

A little later she found out that her two sons – Ghulam Hyder, 18, and Alam Khan, 32 – were among the dead.

Khan hardly controls her tears as she narrates the events of the day from the last year to Daily Times.

“They were the only bread winners for the family. I rushed to the site on hearing that they had suffered injuries,” she says.

But the 10-kilometre trip from the hut to the shipyard proved too long for her to meet her sons alive. They had passed away by the time she reached there.

Alongside the 29 deceased, the explosion left 58 workers with severe injuries.

50-year-old Soomri Khan poses with CNIC of her son Ghulam Hyder, who died along with his elder brother Alam Khan, during deadly fire that swept through Gadani ship-breaking yard, Gadani town, Balochistan on November 01, 2016. Both brothers were working in the Gadani shipbreaking yard. Photo: Amar Guriro.

Among these dead and injured were 14 residents of the Gadani Mor village. Of these, four including Khan’s sons died on the spot and the whereabouts of two remained unknown for several weeks after the accident. The villagers tried looking for them among the dead but remained unsuccessful and eventually gave up hope. Three workers have returned to the village after a four-month-long stay at a hospital in the Hub city but the injuries have left them permanently handicapped and unable to work.

Other villages in the area have similar stories of personal grief and trauma.

Among the aggrieved in Goth Abdul Karim, seven-kilometres away from the explosion site is Azeema Hassan. Her 18-year-old son Sanaullah Hassan who died in the blast was the eldest among eight siblings. “I was devastated after the death of my son. I had sent him to work, not to die,” she says.

Azeema Hassan, 40, mother of Sanaullah Hassan, 18, a shipyard worker, burnt to ashes when a oil tanker caught fire after an explosion on November 01, 2016 at Gadani Ship-breaking yard, Gadani town, Balochistan, Pakistan. Photo: Amar Guriro

Hassan is angry that no inquiry has been undertaken to fix responsibility for the explosion and hold those responsible accountable. “They should face consequences for their actions,” she pleads. “I have asked so many people, but no one seems to know what exactly happened on the site that day,” she says.

After the passage of a year, the only promise to the aggrieved families that stands fulfilled is the payment of compensation.

Ship-breaking Workers’ Union Gadani (SBWUG) states that ship owners have given Rs1.5 million each to families of the deceased; Rs100,000 each to those who suffered severe injuries; and Rs50,000 each to those with minor injuries.

“I lost my son. The compensation money does not change that fact,” Hassan says.

Apart from payment of compensation money, the ship owners have failed to deliver on any of the other commitments – including provision of residential quarters, potable drinking water facility, a hospital and a fire fighting equipment for workers, and latest equipment to ensure safety standards.

During a visit of the site, this scribe found that most of the workers and their families were living in wooden huts they had built using leftover wooden bars from ships. There is no clean drinking water facility. Some residents have dug wells, but the ground water is too brackish and unfit for human health. The area lacks education facilities for workers’ children depriving them of their constitutional right to education.

Elderly ship-breaking yard worker, Aitbaar Khan is standing on the stairs of a wooden hut. Around 12 feet wide, this hut is built by a local resident and he rented it to the shipyard workers. Around 12 workers are living in the ship and each worker pays PKR 500 ($ 5.2 USD) monthly as rent, but this money is for the living and there is no toilet, water and other facilities. Each tenant has to arrange water on their own. Photo: Amar Guriro

The residential colony lacks basic facilities including drinking water, sanitation and healthcare facilities. Photo: Amar Guriro

Despite being one of the biggest in the world, the Gadani ship-breaking yard hasn’t had a single residential colony for workers. There are many workers living with families and not a single school, or water scheme. They spend a lot of money on buying tanker water. Photo: Amar Guriro

A worker is sitting near a ship at the Gadani ship-breaking yard. Photo: Amar Guriro

Workers wander inside Gadani ship-breaking yard, Gadani town, Balochistan. Sometimes, there is no work at all. Photo: Amar Guriro

Most of the children of the workers are not attending the schools. Photo: Amar Guriro

A worker prepares ice to sell to labourers. Photo: Amar Guriro

There is no school at the Gadani ship-breaking yard and most of children of workers are busy playing cricket every day. Photo: Amar Guriro

“Despite our repeated requests, authorities are not providing clean water for the villages. They also committed to build residential quarters and a hospital for workers. Nothing has been done yet,” says Bashir Mehmoodani, the SBWUG president.

He demanded that the shipbreaking administration should ensure health and safety provisions were met at all yards. “They must ensure that each yard has a dispensary and an ambulance service, along with proper canteens,” he says.

Mehmoodani has announced to hold a rally today (November 1) at the shipbreaking yard to protest against the administration and press it to deliver on its commitments. He says the rally will also mark the first anniversary of the explosion.

“We also ask the administration to announce a holiday on November 1. It is no ordinary day for us. 29 of our workers lost their lives that day,” he says.

The administration has yet to agree on this demand, he adds. Regarding the construction of the hospital, he says the administration earlier excused itself saying that they don’t have land for the purpose. “A resident of the area donated two acres but they [the admin] have still made no progress for construction of a hospital,” he says.

The Ship-breaking Yard Association rejects that it has failed to deliver on its commitments. It says they providing most of the basic facilities. “Almost 70 to 80 percent of the facilities we promised have been arranged,” claims Abdul Ghani Suleman, a member of the association’s executive committee.

Speaking to Daily Times, he says the association has set a dispensary for workers. “Construction of a hospital is a lengthy process and needs to be approved by the relevant authorities. “The construction will begin once we get our request approved,” he says. However, he says he cannot give a timeline for the purpose.

Ghani claims that clean water and safety measures have also been provided at the workplaces.

Source: the daily times. 01 November 2017

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