India Hosts A-BAN Conference
The second annual meeting of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) took place last week in Rajasthan, a semi-desert state in the eastern part of India. The choice of venue was of strategic importance as asbestos mining in remote areas of the State has created an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases amongst former asbestos miners and local people, who continue to live amidst asbestos contamination. The fact that those affected belong to tribal groups in areas remote from healthcare and government services has resulted in their plight being ignored by authorities and agencies in the Udaipur district and Rajasthan State as well as by federal officials and national bodies. Similarly affected are inhabitants in the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, another State in Eastern India, where high levels of respiratory diseases are the result of asbestos contamination of water, soil and air.
Mohit Gupta, Coordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI) and an organizer of the A-BAN 2011 meeting, welcoming delegates to Jaipur.
This was the first major ban asbestos meeting of grassroots activists to take place in India, the world's biggest importer of asbestos. As such, it attracted scores of participants from 15 countries. Despite the considerable logistical challenges posed by bringing Indian and international delegates to Jaipur, including the need for translation into three languages, the coordination of a series of workshops, plenary sessions, discussion groups, interviews, media outreach initiatives and the holding of a photographic exhibition, award ceremony and informal meetings, the proceedings went smoothly with positive feedback from A-BAN delegates.1 Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), one of the sponsors of the meeting, said:
Having the opportunity to hear reports from campaigners working in asbestos hotspots throughout India was invaluable. Asbestosis affects significant numbers of those in contaminated areas; as night follows day, an epidemic of all types of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestos cancer, will be seen in India. The situation in Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand makes clear the desperate need for action at all levels of government.
During the A-BAN sessions on November 14-17, reports from other Asian countries detailed the work being done to delineate asbestos issues in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Korea and Japan. It was clear that although asbestos bans have not yet been achieved in the Philippines and Malaysia, substantial efforts are being made to quantify the impact of asbestos exposures on human health and the environment. Nevertheless, the fact that asbestos use continues in these countries is problematic. Korean expert Yeyong Choi, describing the activities of the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO), emphasized that even in a country which has banned asbestos, serious problems remain.
Yeyong Choi from Seoul, Korea.
An analysis done of an icicle suspended from an asbestos cement roof in Seoul, Korea revealed that the sample contained 15% asbestos fiber. In Korea children often break off icicles to eat them as a winter treat. Recognizing this practice, BANKO advisors recommended that these icicles not be eaten or handled by Korean children.
Taking a break from the discussions, A-BAN delegates were given the opportunity to attend a photographic exhibition produced by the Mine Labour Protection Campaign; the show, which was officially opened on November 16, was held in a civic building in central Jaipur. Visitors to the exhibition had the opportunity not only to view the photographs of asbestosis and silicosis victims but also to interact with some of the people whose portraits took pride of place on the gallery walls.
As a consequence of the information received during the A-BAN sessions and the discussions which took place, a statement the Jaipur Declaration was approved by delegates. This document called on the Indian Government to take immediate action to safeguard human health, protect the environment and secure the universal right to life by following international agencies recommendations intended to eliminate asbestos-related diseases and ban the use of asbestos. The text also condemned the Indian's Government's collusion with global asbestos lobbyists and highlighted the devious and immoral behaviour of Canadian asbestos stakeholders who continue to promote sales of deadly asbestos to unsuspecting populations throughout Asia. The Jaipur Declaration called upon the Quebec Government to reject calls from (Canadian) asbestos industry profiteers, in particular the international consortium led by Baljit Chadda, for a $58 million loan guarantee to finance the development of new underground asbestos mining facilities in Quebec. One can only hope that A-BAN's call is heeded by decision makers in Quebec who are expected to announce the government's decision regarding this project before Christmas.
November 23, 2011
1 For media coverage and press interviews related to the A-BAN meeting see: