Great escape

A wave of relief has swept across the world with the rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean gold and copper mine for the past 69 days. Few would have imagined, even a few weeks ago, that the men would emerge alive.

After all, what were the chances of them surviving gruelling conditions — heat, dampness, fear and isolation — nearly 700 metres underground? It has been a tough wait indeed, not just for them but for their families as well. It was hard not to be moved therefore as the men emerged one by one into fresh air and sunlight for the first time in over two months to hugs, tears and cheers.

The miners have displayed indomitable spirit. But their ordeal has not ended. Their prolonged near-death experience is expected to take a heavy toll on their psychological wellbeing in the months and years ahead. Many will struggle with depressed immune systems, anxiety, even post-traumatic stress disorders. After months of living in darkness and isolation, they will have to deal with the sudden glare and pressure of being in the media spotlight and becoming global icons. Experts are warning that the worst is not over for these men.

The rescue operation was a success because of the grit and gumption of the 33 miners. Throughout the period underground they pulled together as a team. This operation owes much too to the efforts of rescue workers and engineers who worked round the clock for weeks planning and putting in place a giant, meticulous operation.

International expertise and technology enabled the aptly named capsule Phoenix to haul the men safely out of the bowels of the earth. Chile’s government too must be applauded for its role. Its leadership led from the front. It drew on every possible resource, local, national and international to ensure that the 33 men came up alive.

Even as the world celebrates the great escape of the 33 miners, it must begin work on ensuring that this nightmare never recurs. It is well known that mines across the world are death traps. The mining industry that is among the most exploitative, where worker safety is not a concern of employers. The magnificent struggle put up by the 33 miners and the rescue team will go in vain if the mining industry and governments across the world fail to improve working conditions and safety in mines.

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