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04.09.14

Planetary health, Lesson 2: What do March’s two transportation tragedies say about us?

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You have no doubt heard about MH 370, the Malaysian Airlines plane lost in the Southern Indian Ocean, with its 239 passengers and crew almost surely killed in a crash into the ocean For several days after the plane disappeared last month this was a lead story in major news media outlets. Even now, whenever there is what may be a significant development in the search, the story returns to the headlines.

Fair enough. This was, after all, a tragedy, hundreds dead, along with the genuine mystery of what happened to the flight, and anguish of family members waiting for news, grasping for any reason to hope, even when by all logic, hope of the passengers’ survival would seem lost.

Also last month there was another transportation tragedy. It killed even more people; 251 may be the final toll. An overcrowded boat of refugees in Uganda, who had fled the violence across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were returning home on March 22. Their boat capsized in Lake Albert, which spans the border of the two countries. Some of those onboard were rescued. Most drowned.

Did you hear about this?

And surely if the fate of MH370 is ever learned, if there are lessons for the aviation industry to prevent similar incidents, new measures will be implemented. Yet we don’t have to look deep beneath the sea to draw lessons about the boat of returning refugees. Lifejackets would have helped. Sufficient funding to enable refugees to return home without crowding onto boats that cannot handle all of their passengers would have helped even more. 

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what the different level of media coverage of these two tragedies, along with what we might anticipate will be the responses to them to avoid such accidents again, says about the health of our own species.

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