Disaster raises questions on media response, priorities

In what has been described by President Bush as “One of the world’s worst natural disasters” (www.cnn.com), the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has left thousands of people displaced, hundreds of lives lost, the potential for the rampant spread of disease and a city that has been submerged by uncontrollable waters.

Amidst this inconceivable pandemonium has arisen problems of looting, tussles and even shootings, a result that is quite understandable as people remain frustrated and distraught without power, without food, without shelter and without hope.

As the Coast Guard, Navy, Army, medical teams and FEMA venture out into Louisiana and Mississippi, the process of rebuilding these cities, though it will take years to fully restore, has begun. But despite the deleterious effects of Katrina and the great destruction it caused on the homeland, I am still compelled to question its likening to the tsunami-by the British Broadcasting Corporation-as our version of it. The same tsunami which came without warning, eroded entire cities in several disparate land masses, took the lives of 300,000 people, disrupted families and left thousands of orphans who became abused, many of whom were ushered into the despicable child prostitution system.

It took several days for the world community to come to the aid of southeast Asian countries. Several days in which people were without shelter, food, clean water and medical attention. Perhaps this may be one of the only things that Katrina and the tsunami have in common -that the federal government issued a delayed response to a recognized crisis.

But the pressing question is, why? Why did it take the government more than 48 hours to issue a public statement of lamentation? Why, with a government so advanced, are issues pertaining to the development of such strong storms such as global warming not taken seriously? Why do we act after-the-fact and not before? And yet another question is, why do we broadcast disasters of unseen proportion on the homeland, yet fail to report on the 8,000 people that die every day from genocide in Darfur, from extreme poverty in Africa, from unimaginable squalor elsewhere. How and when did we begin to add subjectivity in the value of human life?

The effects of Hurricane Katrina are indeed horrible and tragic, but I am still compelled to question the everyday effects of a government which orders killings of its people and the spread of AIDS/HIV in South Africa in which 1,500 people are infected with the disease everyday.

What will it take for news agencies to cover these stories as well? What will it take to reduce coverage of Michael Jackson and the Runaway Bride? What will it take for society to realize that borders only separate land, not humanity?

Shelly Garg can be contacted at s.garg@umiami.edu.