It’s shocking that the world never gets tired of mining tragedies. The latest one struck Turkey, where the authorities completed the recovery of bodies from the Soma coal mine in the west with the final toll from the country’s worst mining disaster reaching 301. A total of 485 miners were rescued alive.
Whether in Turkey or elsewhere, governments must be held responsible for mining tragedies because most of them are the result of safety violations. A preliminary expert report on the accident in Turkey pointed to several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal. The mine operator Soma Komur has vehemently denied any negligence, but the government needs to investigate and punish the guilty.
Emerging economies need cheap energy, and this comes with huge costs — in terms of worker deaths, pollution and others. But the governments can take action to reduce those costs. Reports say that just two weeks ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s party rejected a proposal for a commission to inspect safety conditions at mines in Soma. If action was taken at the time, this tragedy could have been averted. The prime minister’s stand is also deplorable. He arrived at the accident site to offer his condolences to the victims and pledge an investigation. He offered a kind of history lesson, saying that mining accidents “are the nature of the business” and citing an 1866 accident at a mine in the UK that killed 361, a US accident in 1907 that took 307 lives and a 1947 catastrophe in China in which 1,549 died. This explanation will be no consolation to the families of victims. People working in mines and their families are fully aware of the huge dangers of this profession, and are also aware of the previous accidents. What they need is concrete measures to make their workplace safer and minimize the toll when accidents actually happen.
Experts say that mines can be made safer. The history of coal mining in the US shows what can be done. Mining disasters were once far more common in the US, as Erdogan noted, as well as in the UK. But that’s no longer the case. If advances economies could do it, Turkey too can, with its resources and technical sophistication.
The Soma tragedy has further tarnished the image of Erdogan. The police used tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans in Soma on Friday. There is nationwide rage fuelled by claims of negligence against mine operators and what many see as a heartless response from the government. This response may shock even his more loyal supporters, analysts say•