Divers with Disabilities Racing Against Climate Change

Indalecio was a 15-year-old lobster diver when he lost all mobility in the lower half of his body. Today he is 59 years old and uses a walker to get around his town of Gracias a Dios, Honduras.

CBM, in partnership with GOAL Honduras and AMHBLI, will support treatment, physiotherapy, and provide medical aids for divers with disabilities.

In the indigenous Miskito community of Honduras and Nicaragua, diving for lobsters, sea cucumbers, and clams is by far the largest industry, providing a livelihood for thousands of people. Unfortunately, the multi-million dollar industry also leads to paralysis and physical disabilities among divers. Behind this is decompression sickness, a diving-related disease in which nitrogen not utilized by the body - or any other gas used by professional divers to breathe at great depths - forms gas bubbles that clog blood vessels and attack body tissues, joints, lungs, heart, skin and brain.

CBM has partnered with GOAL Honduras and the Association of Honduran Miskito Divers with Disabilities (AMHBLI) in Honduras. The aim is to improve rehabilitation services and provide livelihoods for divers with disabilities and their families on the Miskito Coast of Honduras.

Climate change drives divers to great depths

Overfishing and climate change have affected the number of fish and lobsters near the shore in the Caribbean. At sea, divers must go further out and deeper to the bottom to make a better catch. 

Diver safety regulations require a gradual ascent back to the surface and a limit on the number of dives per day. However, global economic conditions that are driving up the price of lobster are forcing divers to move beyond the recommended limit. 

This puts them at even greater risk of becoming incapacitated due to decompression sickness. 

When they return to land, the divers need treatment and physiotherapy to reverse the effects. Unfortunately, many of them do not have access to this. There are few medical centres, especially those with the hyperbaric chambers needed to treat decompression sickness. This lack of medical support puts divers at risk of spinal cord injuries, paralysis and numbness in the legs. Divers who suffer an accident are usually not compensated, and with a disability, they cannot continue to work and contribute to the family income. 

"We do not have any help, we have problems with mobility, my leg is disabled. There is work, but only for divers who are not disabled. For me, a Miskito with an unusable leg, there is no work," says Eraso from Kaukira.

Eraso, 56, is a diver with a disability. He was injured 29 years ago while diving for lobsters. Since the accident, he has been physically impaired.


CBM's support for divers

This project by CBM, GOAL Honduras and AMHBLI will improve rehabilitation services by supporting the Puerto Lempira Hospital's rehabilitation centre, where divers can receive treatment and physiotherapy, says the clinic's director, Dr Jenny Calderon. "This project aims to help divers who are affected and need an alternative income to meet their needs and support their homes."
Divers with disabilities will also receive medical aids, including canes and wheelchairs. Spouses and children of divers will receive livelihood support through business development workshops, as well as start-up capital to build their businesses.
AMHBLI will advocate for the interests of divers.