Ecological Debt: An enormous Debt the North owes the South

27 May 2005 by Vinod Raina


On that cold night of Dec 3, 1984, yes, nearly twenty years ago, poisonous gases escaped from the pesticide plant of the transnational company Union Carbide in the city of Bhopal, where I live. The impact was catastrophic and genocidal. Men, women and children, unaware of what
was making them choke and fight for life-saving breath fled their warm beds in panic, running distraught, hopefully away from the murderous poisons that had clouded the skies. In an hour or so, over 3000 of them could not outrun the deathly poisons, and they collapsed all over the city, in a grotesque dance of death that had no dignity. And hundreds of thousands from a city of million plus vanished from the city, retching, coughing and mortally scared. They escaped death, but the poisons have made life hell for them, and they continue to suffer, and die from the effects even now. Over 20,000 have died till now.

In wartime Europe, Hitler had to construct special concentration camps with elaborately built gas chambers to exterminate heavily guarded prisoners. But the free and democratic people of the peaceful city of Bhopal required no such expenses of coercion in order to die; the whole city was turned into a deadly gas chamber, free of cost! And the gas, methyl isocyanate, was more lethal than anything even Hitler had used. All that was required was to grant permission to the US based transnational chemical giant - Union Carbide - to put up a plant in a city in order to earn profits by manufacturing and selling a pesticide, Sevin, used in cotton fields. As it transpires
now, the company knew exactly the effects of the poisons in its plant, but when corpses were being piled up that morning, the officers of the plant were saying that the escaped gases could at best cause sore throats! What is most callous and a mockery of justice is that the then CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, against whom international arrest warrants are pending is enjoying his retirement in Atlanta in US, even though he is directly responsible for over 20,000 deaths; because the US refuses to hand him over. But to locate one Osama bin Laden, allegedly responsible for the heinous deaths of 3,000 people on 9/11, the US can launch a war at an international level!

The Bhopal Gas Disaster adequately highlights the environmental and human disaster that mega-business,
backed by mega-bucks can cause. Nor is it isolated. The mercury poisoning of the Minamata Bay in the middle 1950’s should remind us that industrial disasters are part and parcel of the prevailing paradigm that financial institutions - bilateral, multilateral or private - have been promoting the world over, through arrangements that are trapping the recipient countries in a spiral of illegitimate, and odious debts. (Vinod Raina et al: ‘The Disposessed’ - Victims of Development in Asia)

The environmental destruction of the South that we witness today is only an extension of a legacy going back over five hundred years, characterised more by ecological plunder during the period of colonisation. Such plunder, from Latin America, Africa and Asia left nothing that is of value untouched - spices, plants, animals and germplasm, humans as slave labour, land, gold and other minerals, oil and other fossil fuels. The increasing wealth of the North in these five hundred years is built on the bedrock of such plunder, that took away whatever was valuable in the colonies, and rendered the people in the colonies increasingly impoverished, so much so that
these once rich and wealthy lands are today characterised as underdeveloped, developing or part of the Third World. (...)

by Vinod Raina, Asia-Pacific Movement for Debt and Development Jubileesouth - Asia/Pacific & Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS).

Source: ENRED - European Network for the Recognition of
the Ecological Debt (



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