In Pakistan, coal dust is threatening the health of children

As children play barefoot outside their mud-brick houses in Duki, a mineral-rich district in southwestern Balochistan, a dark grey dust hangs in the dry morning air.

Duki is approximately 230 kilometers from Quetta. Families hailing from as far away as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and neighbouring Afghanistan call these coalfields home, despite the serious public health threat posed by dust emissions from coal mining.

“My family is breathing in coal dust and black smoke, but I have no other option except to live in the coal field. A large number of local children can be seen visiting the hospital, suffering from pulmonary diseases,” says Atta Muhammad, one of hundreds of coal miners who live hand-to-mouth with their families on the outskirts of Duki.

Locals refer to the coal as “black gold,” and it is used in factories, brick kilns, and the energy sector in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The children of these colliers are unhappy, and the air they breathe is toxic, as a result of this way of life. The prevalence of asthma and other respiratory symptoms in children living near the opencast coal mining sites is high.

Children are suffering from breathing problems and chest infections as a result of inhaling coal dust, according to local health practitioners.

Balochistan produces approximately 50% of Pakistan’s coal, and coal mining is a source of revenue for the province.

According to Amber Khan Yousafzai, provincial vice president of the National Labour Federation, 15,000 to 20,000 workers work in the Duki and Chamalang coal mines, many of which are unregulated, and 5,000 to 6,000 families live near the hundreds of mines. The mines in Chamalang are among the largest in the region.