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High death rate tallied for World Cup laborers in Qatar

Report claims one Nepalese worker dying every other day at 2022 soccer tourney construction sites; Doha promises change

An illustrative photo of construction for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. (photo credit: Shutterstock images)
An illustrative photo of construction for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. (photo credit: Shutterstock images)

Nepalese World Cup construction workers in Qatar are dying at a rate of one per every two days this year, according to a report published this week.

The report from British newspaper The Guardian focused exclusively on workers from Nepal, suggesting that the death toll for all foreign workers could be much higher.

Qatar has broke ground on a number of massive construction projects since the energy-rich gulf state was granted the hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup in 2010.

Critics have accused the gulf kingdom of widespread rights abuses of the estimated 1.4 million foreign laborers, including squalid living quarters and long hours working in heat that can reach as high as 122°F (50°C).

It has also been widely reported that Qatari construction firms regularly underpay foreign workers and confiscate their passports on arrival, forcing them into perpetual slavery.

The Nepalese foreign employment promotion board claimed that 157 of its workers died between January and mid-November this year in Qatar, with 67 perishing from sudden cardiac arrest and eight of heart attacks. Thirty-four deaths were recorded as workplace accidents.

Figures compiled independently by the Guardian suggest that as many as 188 Nepalese workers have died this year alone, up from the 168 that died last year between January and mid-November.

Last year Doha called on international law firm DLA Piper to commission an investigation on worker conditions and asserted it would administer recommendations provided by a report published in May.

“We know that people who work long hours in high temperatures are highly vulnerable to fatal heat strokes, so obviously these figures continue to cause alarm,” said Nicholas McGeehan, the Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s Qatar’s responsibility to determine if deaths are related to living and working conditions, but Qatar flatly rejected a DLA Piper recommendation to launch an immediate investigation into these deaths last year.”

Although Qatar has trumpeted progress it has made in enacting legislation that would cut down on labor abuses and insisted on further reforms, a report published last month by rights group Amnesty International claimed the country was “dragging its feet” in making systemic improvements for its foreign workers.

“Despite making repeated promises to clean up its act ahead of the World Cup, the government of Qatar still appears to be dragging its feet over some of the most fundamental changes needed, such as abolishing the exit permit and overhauling its abusive sponsorship system,” the report said.

“Six months later, only a handful of the limited measures announced in May have even been partially implemented. Overall, the steps taken so far are woefully insufficient.”

It is believed that an estimated $215 billion is being spent on construction and infrastructure projects ahead of the games — a massive endeavor for a country populated by a modest 1.8 million residents.

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