Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Disaster Limitation

[There's something definitely amiss....I've written two posts that seem to have disappeared into thin air. I prepared them as a draft and then did a 'save' rather than publish straight away (I wanted to look up a reference to see if I'd remembered something correctly) only to find, when I went to the Blogger dashboard that they'd gone! Not that they're any great loss actually, more of an exercise in putting thoughts into words and seeing if they were coherent or represented that mental babble that goes round and around in your head, promises much, but delivers little.]


Along with a great many other bloggers, I find myself constantly confronted with distressing images from Haiti of the bloated dead, untreated dying, distraught survivors and widespread destruction. What I am finding more disturbing than these (if that is possible) is the positive relish with which the media seems to treat these disasters. It reminds me of a television series that used to be on a number of years ago, where such events were treated as a chance to raise one's profile by producing an item of captivating journalism, and to that end one of the more repulsive characters used to carry round a baby's bootee to place upon a pile of rubble in order to create a poignant picture opportunity.
But the scale of the human suffering is terrible, and possibly all the more so for its sudden and acute genesis. In truth, Haiti has been a disaster area for years which the west has blithely ignored even though it is practically on the doorstep of one of the major superpowers. How could that be? Well, obviously Haiti has nothing that its wealthy neighbour wants. Despite being occupied by the US from 1915 to 1934, it was left with nothing more enduring than a massive debt to the US banks that has meant that the country's money has haemorrhaged from its coffers in repayment rather than shore up its own infrastructure. Many of its people are poor subsistance farmers, lacking the most basic necessities. Malaria, tuberculosis and water-borne disease are rife. But now that there's been a conspicuous natural disaster, governments are knocking each other out of the way to be the first to give, give, give. It must be an absolute boon for countries with faltering governments to take the spotlight off their own failings and recast them in a glow of humanitarian touchy-feely support, complete with suitably impressive rhetoric and promises that - let's be honest - not one of the voters will remember even six months down the line. The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
Still, this horrendous event will do just what all the others have done (be they flood, hurricane, tsunami or earthquake): give politicians and the public a chance to feel God-like and pretty good about themselves for an instant. But any improvement that is wrought for the Haitian people will be as a result of long-term, low-level, off-camera commitment aimed at enabling them to improve access to healthcare and literacy, not a one-off, guilt-induced, knee-jerk online donation to mop up the immediate distress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We seem to share the same sentiments on this (see: As I was trying to strip the remaining meat from a chicken carcass yesterday evening in my attempt to make chicken and mushroom pancakes from leftovers (which turned out rather well, even if I do say so myself) I was listening to the World Service on digital radio. I have been a great fan of World Service for years and I am ever so pleased it is possible to get it via DAB and the internet. I think it is a much better way to receive news than the sensationalism of the TV news. When the BBC launched its 24 hour news program on digital TV I remember someone commenting on Radio 4’s Saturday Review (or similar) program that it would mean the dumbing down of news.
The day after the Haitian earthquake I had worked into the early hours of the morning on a draft chapter I was writing for my upgrade and decided to have a break about 2am, so went into the lounge with a coffee and peanut butter sandwich to give myself a break from my study and the computer screen. I watch ‘news’ of the Haitian earthquake as it was breaking – however I realised what I was watching was a loop of film as the same collage of images repeated itself every two or so minutes – I was reminded of the Trueman Show! It wasn’t ‘News’ it was sensationalist ‘wallpaper’ – just something to fill the airwaves.
Television news is a product, just like anything else produced in a consumer based culture, and as the amount of airtime becomes saturated with ‘news’ so (as is often the case with consumer products) the quality goes down, as the lowest common denominator becomes the determining factor in news production – and, moreover, there is less time given over to reflect on events before a correspondent is required to give her or his piece to camera. This means we receive misinformation and are sometimes told things which are just untrue.
To end on a happier note, it did occur to me yesterday evening, that perhaps in the long term the earthquake could be a good thing for country of Haiti – increased foreign investment and the replacement of its tired infrastructure. It could be a new start. Only a thought, but one I hope comes to fruition for the people of Haiti.