Monday, June 23, 2008

Punjab's Cancer Belt

In the village of Jaijjal, Kartar Kaur, 70, lies on a charpoy (string bed). When asked about the deaths of her three sons from cancer, she shakes her head, refusing to speak. [link]

The "bread basket" of India, Punjab was proud of its "Green Revolution" in the 1960s when crop production soared thanks to hybrid seeds and easy access to pesticides. But the harvest it is reaping now is one of malignant tumours. In "the cancer belt", pesticides have contaminated the underground drinking water. "All I do is attend funerals. There are villages where almost every family has someone suffering from cancer," said Manpreet Badal, a member of Punjab's legislature.
Meena Sudan, head of oncology at Amritsar's Sri Guru Ram Dass Rotary Cancer Hospital, says the number of cases has trebled in five years. "We used to get two or three new cases every day, on average. Now we see six to eight, so you're looking at 50 new cases every week. It's frightening." The associate director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, Chandra Bhushan, said: "In a random survey of blood samples from four Bhatinda villages, we found traces of between six to 13 pesticides. Some samples had levels of pesticide up to 600 times higher than those found in American farmers."
Indian cancer sufferer Mukthiar Singh, second to right, sits with family members on a platform in Bhatinda, waiting to board a train known as the "Cancer Express".

Read more about the impact of pesticides on Punjabi farmworkers here and here.