Thursday, October 07, 2010

The high cost of alcohol in El Salvador

The digital periodical El Faro had a lengthy article in the past week about the number of deaths in El Salvador caused by alcohol. The article was based on statistics from the World Life Expectancy web site which ranked El Salvador first among 192 nations in the rate of alcohol-related deaths. El Salvador reported a death rate from alcohol of 22.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. (The number 2, 3 and 4 ranked countries were also from Central America).

The appearance of the World Life Expectancy website gives some doubts to its credibility, so I turned to the comprehensive 2004 Global Status Report on Alcohol published by the World Health Organization. That report has comprehensive statistics on the consumption and consequences of alcohol in countries throughout the world. The WHO focuses on alcohol and its abuse as a public health problem.

The analysis of the WHO Report relies on a calculation of the percentage of deaths of various kinds which are caused by alcohol. So, for example, in a country like El Salvador, the WHO expects that 28% of the murders of men and 25% of male traffic deaths are related to alcohol. Since El Salvador has some of the highest murder and traffic fatality rates, the murders and traffic deaths assumed to be a product of alcohol are among the highest. So I'm not sure that the conclusion that El Salvador has the highest alcohol death rate is an accurate one, but there is no doubt that the problem is a significant one. You can see some of the specific statistics about alcohol consumption in El Salvador from the WHO report at this link.

A recent YSUCA editorial decried the hypocrisy of Salvadoran legislators, backed by business interests, who opposed raising the tax on alcoholic beverages recently:

Since the early twentieth century, the state has abandoned its monopoly on alcohol production. But the hypocrisy surrounding the issue is still evident today in the matter of taxes. Each time you touch the alcohol tax, discussions emerge that show the enormous hypocrisy behind many who provide the defense of liquor or beer. In El Salvador, liquor and beer are still behind many deaths and accidents. The killings which are not linked to crime, but what is often called social violence, are often related to alcohol. Jealousy, anger, revenge, everything is accelerated by alcohol when taken in excess. And alcohol abuse is known and exists in all social strata. Wounds, shock, resulting from brawls and fistfights, ... and that's not to mention the psychological damage, is felt in family and social life.
The YSUCA editorial goes on to mention the traffic deaths caused by drunken driving, as another major cost of alcohol in the country. Tragically, there does not seem to be much interest in the government to improve the situation. The El Faro article concludes:

And is there a willingness in El Salvador to implement measures to restrict consumption and help reduce the problem? After a silence of five seconds, a sigh and a glance at his companion as if seeking help to answer, [Joseph] Ruales opts for a diplomatic answer: "I think there is progress, but I believe there are many things to do yet. There is no point, for example, to make a law that says that alcohol can not be sold to minors under 18 years if there is no way to regulate and punish those who break the law." [Ruales is the representative of the Pan American Health Organization to El Salvador]


1 comment:

Senor Pescado said...

sad
quite sad
oh well, just exclente progress for the Catholic church and the mulitnationals to keep 'the people' "drunk, doped, and stupid"
oh, I bet alcohol is advertised on TV[the worst drug of all}
in El Salvador
I do not even watch there, used to watch a Colombia soap opera when I was with the Nina Box for 2 years
10 years ago