Why are more Turks dying for a ton of coal?
Turkey is mourning for its losses in Soma. A record number of miners have lost their lives. The death toll is creeping to 300, making it comparable only to the 19th or early 20th century mining disasters.
The human cost of coal production is rather high in Turkey. In fact, Turkey is a world leader in the human cost of coal production. Let me explain. In 2012, the U.S. produced around 1 billion tons of coal annually against Turkey’s 76 million. However, there were 20 fatalities resulting from injuries in coal production in the States in 2012. Turkey’s death toll in coal production due to accidents was also 20 in 2012. If our coal production had been closer to that of the U.S., the human cost would have been around 250 in Turkey. That is what I have in mind when talking about the high human cost of coal mining in Turkey. That is what I call a 19th century disaster.
1907 was the year in which the human cost of coal production was the highest in the U.S., with a total of 3,242 miner fatalities. The figures for 1907 U.S. coal disasters were the pathetic example our prime minister dared to talk about when he was supposedly on a mourning trip to Soma right after the mining disaster. However, in the first half of the 20th century in the U.S., the number of coal production related fatalities declined to an annual figure of 1000. In the 1980s, it declined to less than 100 annually and now hovers around 20. While the human cost declined systematically, coal production soared. Turkey, on the contrary, seems to be stuck in the Victorian era.
Even China’s performance is better than Turkey’s. Yet, we have this reflex of accepting our fate and considering disasters as an act of God. Well, they are not. Just check the numbers. More miners are losing their lives per a million tons of coal produced in Turkey than in the States and in China. That should make you pause. Supposedly, it is the same coal producing technology all around the world. Our safety regulations are also on par with modern regulations. However, if more Turks are dying for a ton of coal when compared to their American and Chinese brethren, that can only mean one thing:
Safety standards remain on paper in Turkey. There is a problem with the law enforcement capacity of the Turkish government. Why?
Two things come to mind to explore: The first is that Turkey might have hit its capacity constraints in terms of rapid growth process. It might be getting harder to find skilled workers. You might not have time to train new workers. The rising demand for coal might be creating a more accident-prone environment. Second, it might be another sign of corruption in the country: just a mundane case of eyes-wide-shut regarding safety standards in return for personal or political favors. Both look to be rather 19th century-ish to me. Why are more Turks dying for a ton of coal? You know why? Turkey is still stuck in the age of Marx’s Das Kapital, while the world moved on to Pikkety’s Capital in the 21st Century. That is why Soma looks so Dickensian to me. The Turkish government could easily change this perception. Let’s all now wait for the graft probe on the Soma disaster. We need politics to fully understand what has happened behind the scene. The Turkish Parliament should set up an inquiry commission without losing time.