Friday, January 07, 2005

A tsunami of death, on and off the radar

Yesterday, I wrote about the media coverage of the tsunami, suggesting that some American coverage is too sentimental. But to be fair, I should say that such an international outpouring of sentiment and generosity is a good thing.

We need this sort of connection to the often otherwise faceless concerns and conditions of such a distant land, exactly half way around the world from us. From anywhere in North America, just point down at the center of the Earth, and there, on the other side, is the Indian Ocean. It doesn't get farther away than that.

Now look at these pictures:

These aerial photos are amazing before and after shots, 14 befores coupled with 14 afters. Click on the "before" button to go back and forth. Astounding stuff - the most dramatic images I've seen up to now.

And so we should care, and it's good that so many are caring so much. There are, alas, at least two problems, though, with this innundation, this tsunami of coverage, this tsunami of sentiment.

First, there is such a thing as post event burnout. Compassion, generosity, and attention run thin after the story unfolds but long before the problems are solved.

Second, the drama of this story blinds us to many other dire problem spots and kinds of strife and violent death around the world - and close to home.

The U.N. has already foreseen and expressed concern for both of these consequences, because it is the U.N. that will most likely be dealing with the aftermath of such global problems for generations to come.

Many of us are shocked to see the death toll related to the tsunami rise to 50,000, 100,000, 150,000, and it will surely top 200,000 soon.

Over 50,000 people die of car wrecks in the United States every year. 50,000. Think of that number collectively - it's huge. And think of the similarity - families ripped apart, parents watching their children die, children loosing their parents, the unfairness and violence of it all. But because these deaths occur so often and not all at once, the drama and our interest never gain the same momentum. There are many deaths we accept.

In 1998, the BBC News reported:

"Car crashes now claim more than 500,000 deaths a year, and injure another 15 million people. In 100 years there have been more than 20 million car-related deaths worldwide.

"The global death toll is set to rise rapidly as developing countries acquire more cars and lorries, and the population of young adults increases.

"Road accidents are the single largest killer of men aged between 15 and 44.

"In Europe, more than 5,000 people are killed in road accidents each year, and more than 150,000 remain disabled for life."

Millions have died around the world in the last few years without getting on the radar like this story, of natural and manmade causes. They have passed without obsessing us, without our notice or our hearts.

So yes, it is good that our hearts go half way around the world, but we need to be reminded that we are drawn by the drama and the visual spectacle.

Those photos do speak out loud to us. But so should other numbers in the almanac of death and danger and disaster. Imagine the bodies buried in and swept away from these villages a world away, and keep in mind the sadness and the humanity of all the other deaths we never see.


At 1/11/2005 7:57 PM, Blogger Biff said...

One of the biggest fears that I have is that by giving so much air time to the tsunami victims, that people will get exhausted and tired of what's going on in the affected regions, and stop giving.

Strangely enough, that doesn't seem to be happening--people are giving in record numbers, numbers not seen since Live Aid.

I am astounded by the numbers from car crashes around the world. That's something we tend to take for granted, and yet people still perceive driving as safer than flying. Perhaps people think that all car crashes can be avoided. I guess that anything that involves human error is subject to ridicule and severe judgment. At least it sure seems like it does...

At 11/08/2005 1:44 AM, Blogger Living in Thailand said...

We have a website that was created during the Tsunami please let us know if any people there is found and we will delete themAfter the Tsunami


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