No Light at the End of the Tunnel for Pakistan



Selasa, 28 Mei 2013 17:52 WIB

No Light at the End of the Tunnel for Pakistan

Pakistan coal miners, Baluchistan mines, mine accidents in Asia, poor safety in Pakistan coal mines

Pakistan’s Baluchistan province is rich in minerals, but the mines are notorious for poor safety standards and lack of ventilation. 

In January this year, a methane gas explosion killed eight coal miners. But with no other jobs available, many have no alternative.

17-year-old Tariq Khan starts his day at 5 in the morning at a private coal mine.

He drags a cart loaded with sacks of coal for 3 US dollars a day.

“My father is 60 years old now. We are poor and financially things are tough,” says Tariq.

“I’ve been working here for the past three years to support my father and family. My father started working at this coal mine when he was my age. Previous generations of our family worked in coal mines too.”

It’s a dangerous job... with no proper ventilation inside the mine, they’re working 600 metres underground. Only a few workers are equipped with safety lights.

Miners don’t wear oxygen masks and there are no first aid facilities in case of an emergency.

In January this year, a gas explosion killed eight workers. At the time, there were 200 miners working underground. The worst accident happened in 2011, when dozens of workers were trapped inside a mine... all of them died. That year alone, there were nearly 100 workers killed in 30 separate coal mine accidents.

40-year-old Khalid Khan Afridi has been a coal miner for the last 20 years. He has witnessed the death of many of his friends at work.

“There were about 48 people killed in a nearby mine and the dead bodies were lying there for a week. We dug them out and we found that there was no flesh on their bodies. They’d been completely burnt. I worry for my life too as the mine is not safe. I work here because I’m poor.”

After the 2011 incidents, the provincial government passed a bill to allocate funds to improve the working conditions in the coal mines. And the government was required to conduct safety training workshops for the workers.

But so far, nothing has been implemented.

Asia Calling asked for a comment from the government, but they refused to talk to the international media about the mines.

There are around 250 coal mines across the province, employing 60 thousand workers. They are working 12 hours a day for an average of 5 US dollars.

But there are few other alternatives, partly as a result of the conflict between the Baloch nationalists and the Pakistan government over the share of mineral resources.

Fazal-e-Haq is an MSc student of microbiology at Baluchistan University.

“I’ve applied many times for jobs but it’s hard to find a decent one without a reference or contacts in the government. I can’t get any government jobs. I work in the coal mine at night and study at university during the day. I study in very difficult conditions. And now, many boys can only study until the 10th grade because they’re so poor.”

62-year-old Abdul Khaliq worked inside the mines for two decades. He’s now working as a security guard due to his bad health.

“I have been working in the coal mines since 1965. But now I can’t work as I’m in a lot of pain and have breathing difficulties. I can’t work or walk fast because of my chest pains. I just can’t walk by myself. Allah is the only who can cure me.”

He earns 60 US dollars a month... and spends it all on food and medicine. The mines are located far from the city center... and patients have to be carried for hours to the nearest health facility.

The nearest rural health center is 10 kilometres away from the mine. There are two doctors on duty, but neither of them is available.

Sayed Muhammad Hassan Shah is a medical technician, but he’s treating patients, in place of the doctors.

“The coal mine workers usually have chest problems. We don’t have enough medicine so we normally refer them to another hospital. We can only provide treatment for minor injuries.”

It’s lunch time now and Tariq Khan is heading home... it’s within walking distance of the mine.

At home, her 9-year-old sister Sanam Gul has prepared lunch for him.... a slice of bread and a cup of tea without milk. They live with their father at home. 

“My mother has gone to the Swat Valley to take care of my grandmother because she’s sick. She’s been there for three months now. We don’t have any money to buy her bus ticket to return home.”

Tariq wants to leave his job, “Everyone has a dream and mine is to be free from here and to have another job where I can have time to rest.”

He explains that with this job, he has to get up very early in the morning and working until very late in the evening.

“Money and education can change one’s life but I don’t have either. So I’ll work like my father until I die. No one or no government has done anything for us and I’m just waiting for a miracle from Allah to change my life.”

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