Another mass poisoning caused by illicit alcohol in Turkey has killed 50 people in the space of two weeks, and the number continues to rise.
The outbreak has been linked to contraband alcohol mixed with toxic methanol, which is produced and sold in several provinces in Turkey. There have been half a dozen more deaths in the past 24 hours.
Most of the deaths (22) have occurred in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, but poisonings are widespread with cases in Gaziantep, KahramanmaraÅ, Sivas, Yalova, Erzincan, Aksaray, Mersin, Kocaeli and Zonguldak provinces over the last few days, according to a report from the Hurriyet news service. It was reported that 11 of Istanbul’s deaths were among foreign nationals.
Last year another outbreak of illicit alcoholism claimed more than 80 lives as hundreds of people questioned in investigations attempting to identify the criminal networks behind the production and sale.
Contamination with methanol can cause serious side effects, including blindness and paralysis when ingested, even in relatively small amounts. However, serious health complications can also arise even in the absence of the chemical, for example if ethyl alcohol is present in dangerously high proportions.
So why is Turkey so prone to these poisoning events? Several local media claim that the problem of illicit alcohol is made worse by the huge increase in taxes on alcoholic beverages, which is now accompanied by a massive increase in consumer prices in Turkey.
Inflation drives up the prices of legitimate alcoholic products and pushes people to consume contraband and counterfeit alcohol.
There have been calls for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to raise interest rates to try and reduce inflation, estimated at around 21% at the moment, but so far he has resisted the move, claiming that that would worsen inflation.
This flies in the face of the thinking of most economists, and many countries around the world have raised their rates in an attempt to counter price increases.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has gone the other way, reducing the cost of borrowing, and the president has said he intends to cut rates further in the coming days to boost exports, investment and l ‘use.
Tusiad – Turkey’s largest trade association – urged the government to revert to “established rules of economics” over the weekend, but was slapped by Erdogan.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Lira continues to fall against the Dollar, Euro and British Pound to all-time lows, contributing to higher prices, especially for imported goods.