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Keamari gas deaths

ILLEGAL industrial concerns located in congested residential areas present a clear danger to human health and well-being.

However, civic authorities appear oblivious to the hazards industries dealing with potentially toxic materials pose to the people living around them, as the mushroom growth of such concerns in populated areas shows. This is especially true in the nation`s major cities such as Karachi and Lahore, where despite the occurrence of numerous deadly accidents, the state remains unmoved. One particularly tragic case involved the deaths of at least 18 individuals, mostly children, in Karachi`s Keamari area in January. While it was initially being suggested by some quarters that the deaths could be linked to measles, a medical board constituted by the Sindh health department has concluded that the fatalities were caused by toxic gases released by nearby industrial units. The report says that fatalities started occurring after a `plastic burning factory` opened in the area in early January, and stopped after the establishment was shut down.

Thanks to the massive unplanned growth and urban sprawl, the distinction between residential, commercial and industrial areas has disappeared in most of our cities. Therefore, it is not unusual to spot industrial concerns using hazardous chemicals and emitting toxic gases located right next to densely populated settlements. This results in deaths as well as long-term health perils for those unfortunate enough to live in such areas. The state including the health and industries departments, local administration and the police is conspicuous by its absence, mostly because the victims are poor and voiceless. This reality needs to change. As the report probing the Keamari deaths has noted, industrial activities in residential areas need to be stopped, restricted or removed. While this is a challenging task, at least those units dealing with hazardous material must be immediately relocated, while in future, land use and urban planning principles must be respected so that dangerous industries are located far from populous neighbourhoods.