Hurricane Wilma hits Yucatan at 1:15 ET Friday October 21
In this, the year when Time’s Person of the Year absolutely must be Mother Nature, we have seen astonishing outpourings of support to the victims of the Pacific Tsunami and (except for the US government) to the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Belatedly, again due to national government incompetence, we can expect significant aid to get through in the end to the victims of the Kashmir earthquake. We can expect the same for Hurricane Wilma.
But in the meantime, this year has produced a lot of natural and man-made disasters for which the victims have been largely left to their own resources. Whole villages in Guatemala were buried in mud and have simply been abandoned because of Hurricane Stan. Even if rescue efforts could be fruitful at this late date, the ground is so impassible that relief workers are prohibited from entering some areas. The official death toll is around 800, probably significantly higher than the toll from Katrina, but there has been almost no coverage of this horrific disaster, and it is likely that actual human losses, including those in the buried villages, actually number in the thousands. The bulk of foreign aid for this disaster has come (!) from Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the genocide in Darfur continues unabated, with lots of hand-wringing from countries whose media have covered the event, but precious little action. The Janjaweed warlord militias in Darfur have been so emboldened by the impotence of the world to stop their atrocities that they are now attacking the troops of the corrupt and racist Sudanese government that put them in power in the first place (sound familiar)?
The situation in Niger (the second poorest country in the world, where Saddam was purportedly trying to get uranium) is even worse, and the famine that has ruined that country has received almost no relief (Sweden again tops the list). Today 2.5 million people are on the brink of starvation. The drought and locust infestation, the worst in 15 years, has wiped out the crops on the already exhausted soils of this quickly desertifying nation (only 15% of the country remains arable, and that percentage is dropping each year). Malaria is endemic.
In East Africa, sub-Saharan West Africa, and several Central American and Caribbean countries, the situation is not much better. Many countries are being ravaged by HIV/AIDS, suffer thousands of deaths needlessly from preventable diseases for which they cannot afford the medicines, or are being torn apart by civil wars and insurrections, some of them decades old.
Why is it that we (a) cover some disasters in the media and not others, and (b) send aid to help with some disasters and not others?
I would suggest that there are a number of factors that lead to this decision. Most of them are unfair:
Score each of the disasters mentioned above by these six criteria and you have a pretty accurate predictive model. Except for the novelty criterion, we can’t really blame the media. They generally respond to rather than drive public opinion in these matters. South Asian immigrants make up a substantial percentage of new Canadians, and were that not the case, the Canadian media would not have given nearly as much coverage to the Kashmir earthquake as they did. That coverage in turn embarrassed the Canadian government, and the Canadian banks and major charities, into providing and campaigning for a lot more disaster relief for the earthquake than would have happened if the identical earthquake had happened, say, in Central Asia or Africa or even mainland China. And a lot more than would have been the case a generation ago before that South Asian immigration grew into a torrent.
This is why I don’t believe that governments should shrug off to individual taxpayers their responsibility to do their fair share to invest to prevent and relieve such disasters. Governments (aside from the bias of economic interest) are in a better position to objectively assess the relative need for aid and investment of the over 100 countries that suffered some kind of natural or man-made disaster in the last year, than we, with our individual prejudices, are. Many “not my bother’s keeper”-spouting individuals, in fact, don’t believe we have any responsibility to help the victims of disasters elsewhere, even elsewhere in their own country. That’s why so many Americans were actually embarrassed at the amount of relief promised and given to the victims of Katrina by governments of other nations — if the shoe were on the other foot (if you’ll pardon the mangled metaphor) they wouldn’t lift a finger.
I think governments that rely on their citizens to act to help those unfortunate through no fault of their own, and waffle and hedge and procrastinate (or put political conditions on their aid!) are a disgrace to humanity. The fact that some in such callous, skinflint governments claim to be deeply religious is more galling.
Maybe I should consider moving to Sweden.
[Just as an interesting aside, the CBC’s research on the Hurricane Stan death toll indicated that the areas that had a local, community-based emergency plan fared much, much better than those that foolishly left it up to “higher authorities”. El Salvador in particular has inexpensive local warning and evacuation processes, which is probably why its death toll from Stan was so low. One more indication that, in government, business and just about everything else, small is beautiful, and big is clumsy and arrogant.]
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
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A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
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What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
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Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
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No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
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The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
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Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
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Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
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The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
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Learning from Indigenous Cultures
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The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
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