How the Media Talks about Tragedy in Developing Countries and Why it’s Crucial to Relief Efforts

To help those affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan, visits Damayanmigrants.org, AF3IRM.org, Doctorswithoutborders.org, or contact the Filipino American Student Organization at fasomadison@gmail.com to participate in relief efforts in Madison, WI. 

Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) devastated the Philippines on November 8th, 2013 and left close to 4,000 people dead. Although the storm is over, survivors of the typhoon continue to die. Thousands of people in the middle region of the Philippine Islands are left dealing with the loss of their families and homes while trying to survive with little food, power and clean water supply.

Image from: www.ibitimes.com

In the Philippines, the World Food Program says a quarter of the people are in dire need of food in the typhoon-battered central parts of the country still have not received it. Eleven days after the storm hit, the government says some 5,600 people are dead or missing (3,982 people killed, 1,602 missing).

Just days following the super typhoon, various news outlets started releasing articles focused on the violence and crime taking place in Tacloban and surrounding areas.

Reuters writes, “eight people were crushed to death when looters raided rice stockpiles in a government warehouse in the town of Alangalang, causing a wall to collapse, local authorities said.” Looting has a negative connotation and it’s use was the subject of much controversy during Hurricane Katrina coverage. A photo of young black man carrying food was described as “looting,” whereas a photo of a white couple carrying food was described as “finding.”

Another article by CNN discusses prison breakout threats, looting and violence long before it illustrates how people can help. Even then, relief effort and support is diminished to a single link at the bottom of the page.

A World News article announced that the World Bank offered a loan of $500 million to the Philippines. The article focused on rebuilding the affected areas, however, many of the comments posted below the story carried on a debate about lending money and whether lesser developed countries deserve foreign aid.

Map provided by The New Republic illustrating the size of the super typhoon in relation to the U.S. and The Philippines.

Map provided by The New Republic illustrating the size of the super typhoon in relation to the U.S. and The Philippines.

Although not all news coverage or comments about the Philippines are negative, articles such as the ones above create a skewed perception of the Filipino people. Here are a few things to keep in mind when discussing the Super Typhoon Haiyan and The Philippines:

1. The Philippines is a lesser developed country and has many disadvantages, such as poor infrastructure, poverty, lasting effects of previous colonization, its geographical location and corrupt government officials, which prevented the Filipino people from adequate preparation.

2. This is one of the largest storms ever recorded, and one of three category 5 typhoons that has hit The Philippines since 2010. These storms over time continued to weaken and eventually destroyed the Philippines’ already poor infrastructure.

3. Recovery doesn’t happen in a day. It will takes years for the Philippines to rebuild and resume their lives. Even two years after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan is still rebuilding. Ensuring that dialogue remains about relief efforts is critical for recovery.

4. Tragedy should not provoke a political debate about whether developed countries should provide relief for lesser developed countries. The survival of other human beings should not rely on your position on foreign aid. AF3IRM, an anti-imperialist feminist organization writes, “In these last weeks we have seen blows struck by an outraged Earth — not against nations that contribute the most to global warming and pollution; nations which have imposed a “development” predicated on the ruthless despoliation of sea, soil and mountain;  nations which have warped the age-old harmony between humanity and nature;  but rather blows have been struck at the most vulnerable and hapless of nations like the Philippines. ” Their statement pushes the idea that Super Typhoon Haiyan is more than just a storm, it’s a tragedy that continues to build on previous misfortunes. Their statement echoes the injustice during such tragedies in all lesser developed nations.

To read the entire statement by AF3IRM: For the Typhoon Victims, Charity Must be Followed by Justice.

For more information about the devastation in the Phillipines, check out these helpful links:
Maps that Explain Why the Typhoon hit the Phillipines so Hard
What if Typhoon Haiyan Hit the United States?
An Interactive Map of the Typhoon

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