ABU DHABI // Young labourers have been warned about the perils of alcohol after figures showed a steep rise in the number of Nepalese workers in the UAE dying of drink-related illnesses.
A study by the Nepalese embassy showed that deaths from alcohol went from zero in 2013-2014 to two in 2014-2015 and then jumped to seven in 2015-2016. Officials feared the toll could be as high as 15 by the end of this year.
Most of the men who have died from conditions such as liver failure were aged between 22 and 30.
Alcohol is readily available in labour camps for as little as Dh10, and workers were taking to it to help ease depression and homesickness, staff said.
About 184 Nepalese people have died in the UAE in the past three years, the study showed, of whom 56 per cent suffered a heart attack or from an alcohol-related disease. Twenty-six per cent of that total died in accidents, while another 16 per cent committed suicide.
“Casualties because of alcohol consumption are gradually increasing in the UAE and that is a major concern for the mission,” said Krishna Aryal, second secretary and information officer at the embassy.
“More than five Nepalese between the age of 20 and 49 have died in the UAE each month for the past three years for different reasons.
“But deaths due to liquor consumption are alarming as it’s widely consumed in our country and workers are used to it.”
The increase in deaths linked to alcohol was a “major concern”, Mr Aryal said. “Yes, these are small numbers but I am surprised that even one person has died from alcohol,” he said.
The official said he believed that Nepalese workers were buying cheap alcohol that may have been tainted with chemicals that were killing them.
Despite the figures, fewer Nepalese die in the UAE than in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Malaysia.
While there were 184 fatalities in the UAE since 2013, in the same period 459 Nepalese died in Saudi Arabia, 567 in Qatar and 1,191 in Malaysia.
Dr Atul Chawla, a specialist in gastroenterology at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, said: “We had such cases at our hospital where people had liver damage due to alcohol intake.
“Other complications included heart, brain and pancreas inflammation. We had a few cases of death of people in our other branches because of alcohol.”
Nepalese workers acknowledged that their countrymen drank too much, largely because of financial pressures and depression.
“The financial burden, family disputes and pressure to remit more money back home places a huge weight on them. To relieve that, they resort to excessive drinking,” said Dipak Thakuri, 31, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for three years.
“In our country alcohol is not regulated and is easily available. We are used to it from a very young age.”
Labourer Kedar Khadka, 36, said: “If you drink outside in the heat and suddenly enter a very cold environment, it can affect your health.”
Mr Aryal said education was key to cut the number of deaths.
“We are planning to embark on a long awareness programme among Nepalese workers and tell them not to consume low-quality and cheap alcohol sold in the streets around the labour camps, which could be fake and poisonous,” he said.
“We are going to visit all of the emirates and tell our people about its harmfulness and that it might kill them. If they want to drink they can get a licence and buy from authorised retailers.”