Friday, December 23, 2011

What Can We Buy With Human Lives?

Stanford economists estimate that the average value of a year of quality human life is close to about $129,000.
But for the people of Mosquito Coast in Cocobila, Honduras, a lobster is priced at 352 lives.

The Miskitos are a native American ethnic group in Central America, and most of them dive for lobsters to earn a living. These lobsters are no ordinary lobsters--they are considered luxury food for the European and American market, and the Miskitos literally risk their lives catching these sea critters for the rich and famous.

Diving without proper equipments is a dangerous feat. In order to catch lobsters, Miskito men will have to plunge as deep as 150 feet into the sea to search for their catch, and they do it as often as 12 to 15 times a day, when only three or four dives beyond 90 feet would be considered safe.

Without depth gauge or air gauge, they often ascend too quickly when it becomes difficult to breathe, causing nitrogen bubbles to form inside the body.
When the bubbles lodge in the joints or nervous system, they can leave the diver paralysed. A bubble that reaches the lungs or brain can be fatal. Death from the bends can be particularly disturbing to witness: it is sometimes accompanied by heavy bleeding from the nose, ears and
In the past, the Miskitos had no idea what struck them; they thought it was a curse from a vengeful mermaid, angry that they'd taken so much from the sea.
Now that they know the reason behind the constant headache, they still can't anything about it--they are paid because most of them can't afford an additional gauge. And most ship captains don't trust the divers to handle better kit.

Since 2003, the Association of Disabled Miskito Divers has registered 352 deaths from Decompression Sickness (DCS), but this is a conservative figure: many will have been killed at sea never to be accounted for, and hundreds more will have died at home, slowly, from diving injuries. But a beggar can't be a chooser, as the only other established industry in Honduras is drug trafficking. Not wanting to get involved with drugs, young Miskito men must continue to risk their lives diving for lobsters.
A similar thing is happening approximately 8000 kilometers away, in the town of Koidu, in eastern Sierra Leone. Here, an average man earns $220 a year and dies at 39. Like the Miskitos, the lives of the 1million miners here cannot match the value of their product--diamonds. Most miners earn a meager stipend of 7 cents to contribute to the $60 billion industry.
Realizing the value to the diamond industry, a group known as the Revolutionary United Front killed, threatened, and even cut off the arms of people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines in the area. Then the group moved on to the next village to do more of the same, effectively terrorizing the entirety of Sierra Leone.
And the smuggling and illegal trade of these diamonds helped to fund the civil war in Sierra Leone, which ended in 2002. But all in all, roughly 20,000 innocent people suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 were killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone as a result of the war. The diamonds sold to fund the war were thus dubbed "blood diamonds".
The thing is, lobsters and diamonds aren't diabolical--irresponsible humans are. Boycotting lobsters and diamonds cannot solve the problem, because these people are dependent on the industry (girls and diamonds are inseparable). What we really need is a strict law to regulate the extraction and trade of these products. A law to force lobster companies to provide competent diving kit, or to open clinics for injured divers could help to prevent further death from DCS. As for the diamond, it'd be prudent for consumers to avoid purchasing a blood diamond. Most companies wouldn't charge extras for asking the origin of their diamonds anyway.

A diamond is a symbol of eternal love, and a lobster, err... luxury food.
But human lives are more valuable than either glittering stones or tasty sea critters.


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