While Layyah district of Punjab is slowly recovering from the poisoned sweets disaster, which struck in the third week of April, a sense of despair still lingers. The grief-stricken villagers have not yet been spared the trudge to the graveyard to bury the latest victims of that still-unfolding tragedy. The death toll has been rising steadily and has now climbed to 33. Some 13 other victims are still undergoing treatment. It all began on a very happy note. A local resident had bought the baked confectionery on April 17 to distribute among friends and family to celebrate the birth of his grandson. But that delight turned to instant mourning as 10 people died on the same day, including the baby boy’s father.
A chemical examination has indicated the presence of agricultural pesticides in the sweets and investigators are still trying to figure out how chemicals were introduced into the confectionery preparation process. One explanation given for this catastrophe is that the workers may have added the insecticide to the sweet mix by mistake since there was a pesticide shop close by which was being renovated, and the owner had left his products at the bakery. That is a possibility, but a conclusive word on the whys and hows of this incident from investigators is still awaited. The Punjab chief minister has formed a team led by the Punjab Food Authority’s operations director, to probe the matter thoroughly. Let us hope the team fathoms out the precise reasons behind this grim episode. But the incident nevertheless shines light on the poor implementation of food safety laws in the country, especially in our smaller towns and cities where there is little awareness of importance of food safety standards, let alone their implementation. It also highlights the inadequacy of our health infrastructure, which was found ill-equipped to handle the steady stream of patients when a disaster of this magnitude hit the town. The chief minister needs to pay equal attention to this aspect of the tragedy and review the state of hospitals in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2016.
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