This morning, I was reading Evelyn Rodriguez’ latest posts in Crossroads Dispatches following her safe return home. Evelyn was caught up (and injured) in the Asia earthquake/tsunamis disaster and blogged about what she saw and experienced.
One of Evelyn’s posts in particular has provoked some thoughts.
In a post entitled A Tsunami Survivor’s Perspective: The Press and Blogs, Evelyn writes:
Bringing Story Closer. I didn’t realize on Monday when I wrote from Phuket Hospital that scale of the tsunami and numbers of people affected as I only got very sparse news at the time. I didn’t intend to blog so much about it except I felt a responsibility to bring the story home. Perhaps many people, especially Americans, could not relate to an event halfway around the world I thought. You might be moved for a few minutes, but eventually you sip your morning coffee and go back to work and the daily routine. In order to help with the relief effort, I thought it was important to bring the story closer to home by sharing the my own story (regular readers already know me and could relate to me) and those I’d met. I’m particularly motivated to help the local people whom have often lost families, their homes and their livelihoods – even though most of the folks I’ve mentioned thus far are foreigners.
What struck me in particular was Evelyn’s comment "You might be moved for a few minutes, but eventually you sip your morning coffee and go back to work and the daily routine."
That’s how it is with disasters. I think many people just get numbed by it all after a while. Look at what’s happening in Iraq on a daily basis, for instance, or an equally-awful tragedy in Argentina a few days ago (175 killed in a nightclub fire). Such events have momentarily been eclipsed by the tsunami disaster.
The BBC reported some good news today about this disaster:
Ships and aircraft with large amounts of aid are descending on
regions hit by last Sunday’s Indian Ocean tsunami. The US aircraft
carrier Abraham Lincoln has arrived at the Indonesian island of
Sumatra, and three of its helicopters have gone to the worst-hit area,
Aceh. […] At least 124,000 people died in the tsunami. The UN says
the toll is nearing 150,000 and may never be known. The US said on
Friday it planned to increase 10-fold – to $350m – its contribution to
help the survivors. Thousands are still missing after a huge undersea
earthquake struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Sunday,
sending giant waves smashing into coastlines from Malaysia to East
Yet how long will it be before this disaster slips away from the
front page as we all get on with our daily routines and/or the next
tragedy someplace else gets attention?
I was most interested to read a report on the English-language service of Radio Nederland (which, by the way, is a really excellent news service, second only to the BBC in my view) entitled Tsunami disaster must not be forgotten in 2005.
This report includes an interview with Professor of Disaster Studies Georg Frerks of Wageningen University near Arnhem in The Netherlands, who is worried about the future:
"What we have seen in situations of war and earlier large natural
disasters is that the aid dwindles after a certain moment. The media
attention has stirred somewhere else and political priorities are
shifting and the attention is not really there and it becomes
questionable if the aid is really flowing. Experience has learned that
very often even the money that was promised has not been given."
Mr Frerks says that the situation in Asia is known as a
solidarity disaster: "We feel sympathy with all those people, but to
keep the attention for a long term on a certain problem and necessary
long term measures and also to do it in a good way, with good planning,
we have very often seen in the past that it is very difficult to
You can listen to a 4-minute interview with Prof. Frerks
in which he talks in detail about his concerns. (The interview is in
Real format only, unfortunately; if you want to avoid using Real, try
this excellent free replacement: Real Alternative.)
So, to the thoughts Evelyn’s posts provoked.
It’s simply this: blogs can play a role in keeping awareness of this
disaster on the front page and not on page 8. Not necessarily by
posting lengthy commentaries every day but perhaps by more subtle
devices such as graphics or links to aid agencies or media sites with
detailed information. For instance, I have some graphics and links at
the top-right of this blog which I will keep there for as long as
they’re helpful. I’ll also continue to post commentary.
We can make a difference in a small way.