By Avanya Rao
SINGAPORE — Unless you’re living under the proverbial rock, by now you’ve probably heard of Hurricane Harvey and the havoc it has wreaked from Corpus Christi, Texas, to New Orleans. As of now, 70 people have lost their lives, over a million have been displaced and thousands have been forced to move into shelters.
According to The New York Times, rebuilding Houston and its surrounding area will be a multiple-year project and cost $40 billion 5o $50 billion dollars. President Trump visited twice, first on Aug. 29 and again Sept. 2. Over the last two weeks, broadcast and print media have shared images of heartbreaking tragedy as well as heartwarming rescue and neighborliness in Texas. More such images are sure to come if Hurricane Irma strikes Miami as predicted and overtakes the eastern coast of the U.S.
And yet, even if you’ve been diligently following the news on all the major American networks, you can be forgiven for knowing little, if anything, about rather significant flooding in another part of the world:
Proud to lead a force of dedicated officers & men, who delivered to the best of their abilities & lend Mumbaikars an assuring hand pic.twitter.com/J4S9bN3DaG
— CP Mumbai Police (@CPMumbaiPolice) August 30, 2017
In South Asia, the United Nations estimates that more than 41 people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have been affected by unprecedented rainfall and associated flooding during the June-September monsoon season, according to a New York Times report, resulting in the loss of 140 people and 700,000 homes in Bangladesh alone. For those left homeless, there are often no shelters.
Both disasters are tragic and a single life lost in either is one too many. But is loss of life less worthy of reportage if it’s the lives of the poor in developing nations? While in no way taking away from the horrors that have transpired in Texas, does the disaster in another part of the planet merit no more than a passing reference in the news?
Earlier this week, while watching the European news channel France 24, I came across an image of a woman in Nepal. Dazed, she was sitting in the middle of what was left of her mud-and-thatch home. The crawl below explained that she lost her home and family in the disastrous flooding. The coverage quickly moved on to other topical global issues. The difference between the television media’s 24/7 media coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the lack of news regarding the flooding in South Asia is stark.
Asked if she knew about the flooding of Mumbai earlier this week, Cat Strickland, a senior at Singapore American School, said, “No, I watch CNN and they didn’t mention anything was going on.”
Ragini Suri, a high school senior studying at the United World College of South East Asia, said that she had heard of the floods in India because she has family in Mumbai. But Suri has since been following the story on Indian news channels “because there’s nothing on American or international media” to watch:
— Climate State (@climatestate) August 29, 2017
Is this news blackout about the all-important viewership stats that decide advertising revenue? There are more than three million South Asians living in America who may be interested in what’s happening to their friends and families in their countries of origin. They are depending on the South Asian and even European news channels on cable who are providing this information.
When the media covers a natural disaster in one part of the world but disregards another elsewhere, we miss a chance to connect events and see the bigger picture.
On Thursday, a Mumbai-based doctor left his waterlogged car to walk the short distance to his house. He never reached it. Only his umbrella was found floating near his car. Eyewitnesses said he may have stepped into an open manhole hidden by the water.
Hundreds of such tragedies transpired in the midst of the swirling floodwaters in South Asia last week. They resembled stories happening in Houston and now in the Caribbean. Few, if any, were reported on American broadcast media.
Perhaps a gentle reminder is timely: Even in an isolationist age, “America first” does not mean America alone” to most Americans, whatever their heritage. This also is true of what they want to know about the world they live in.
The news media should be telling us more.
Featured photo: Floods in Mumbai paralyzed the city on Aug. 29 and forced office workers downtown to take shelter with colleagues and friends. Though monsoon flooding is seasonal, Photo by News Measurements Network Live/Creative Commons Universal Public Domain.