This was brought up on a forum I frequent. There are, at any given point, people suffering and dying anywhere in the world, whether it be because of starvation, disease, ethnic cleansing, political agendas, or whatever. So why does the tsunami get so much attention when, for the most part, we’re perfectly comfortable ignoring mass death and destruction otherwise?
I think part of the reason why the tsunami victims are getting so much aid is because so many people died so very quickly, so many lives changed in an instant. It didn’t happen over a year or two – it happened in a few minutes. So there’s the suddenness, the shock aspect. I think another reason is because tsunamis killing this many people don’t happen very often. When was the last time it happened? Probably Krakatoa in 1883, although I could be mistaken. Another reason is the publicity. It’s sensationalism to keep showing pictures hour after hour of the devastation the tsunami caused.
We’re like freaks staring at the car accident with the dead bodies lying on the pavement. Looky-loos.
Pictures of dead bodies caused by famine aren’t as interesting. They don’t garner the ratings that tsunami pictures will get.
Perhaps another reason would be that, in at least some of these countries where people are dying of starvation, reporters aren’t allowed in, or aren’t allowed easy access. Or it’s been going on for so long that people are bored by it.
But how can you keep reminding people without them getting bored? After all, it’s easy to forget about things when we’re not constantly reminded.
Another aspect, I think, are the personal stories from survivors. First-hand accounts.
Words don’t help as much when they’re about groups of people. But words help a helluva lot when they’re about specific individuals with specific stories. And that’s something else that’s different about this one – a lot of individuals reported in to people they knew about the disaster as it was unfolding via text messaging with cell phones. Cell phone technology is a huge thing here in south Asia, let me tell you. Embraced and run with it is another way to phrase it. People here use their cell phones in ways that make you North Americans look like neophytes. Like text messaging. I think it was nearly always available on my cells in Canada, but I never used it, and no one else did that I know of. Here, everybody does. The reason? Cost.
A cell phone call costs me Rs. 17 per minute outgoing, Rs. 8 or so incoming. A text message costs Rs. 2 – even if it’s to another country! When you consider how poor people here are, you can see why people here are so price conscious and embrace things that save them a lot of money. Fahim and I will text message each other when we’re not in the same building rather than make a phone call – because of the cost.
Granted, not everyone can afford a cell phone. True. But in a disaster like this, people from all parts of the economic scale are affected.
So when the tsunami hit, and landlines were down, if one could actually find a telephone, that is, and there’s no internet to be found, scores of people sent text messages about everything that happened and was happening. Many of these stories formed news reports on the internet or became part of a blog. Huge dissemination of information in a very fast way.
Africa. Starving. Do they have cell phones? If they’re starving, they’re likely too poor to have cell phones. Not all parts of the economic scale are affected equally, I would think. If you have money, you can afford the inflation that comes with droughts or shortages. That’s the position Fahim and I are in – we know we’ll be okay financially even if food is short because we can afford to pay. But the poor and starving in Africa? Not likely.
I think that again, it’s the lack of personal accounts and pictures of individuals. We don’t hear from any of the individuals who are being affected.