Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding in southeast Texas are a terrible tragedy marked by a loss of life and property that will leave deep scars. However, Texas is not alone, and we here in the U.S., engrossed in our own drama, have largely ignored the even more damaging storm and accompanying floods in South Asia, where the death toll is estimated at more than 1,200. Just this morning, flooding caused a building collapse in Mumbai, and thousands more are at risk of collapse due to their foundations being weakened by the flood waters. Millions, not thousands, of people across the region are seeking emergency shelter.
A headline in the ‘letters to the editor’ section of The Guardian yesterday asks the question:
Why more coverage of floods in Texas than in South Asia? Are American lives simply worth more?
While I have the greatest sympathy for those who have lost friends, family, pets or property in the Texas floods, I am disgusted at the relative number of column inches and amounts of airtime devoted to its coverage. During precisely the same period huge areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and India are suffering an even greater catastrophe, with 1,200 plus lives lost and millions made homeless. Let’s get some balance here. America is a rich country and will cope, despite inept leadership. Or are we saying that American lives are worth more?. – Susan Howe, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire
And this …
The probability of these extreme weather events has increased as a result of global warming. Focusing on America might have been justified if Donald Trump had used his visit to Texas to announce the US’s return to the Paris climate accord. In the absence such good news, can we assume that the UK media values an American life at 80 times that of an Asian one? – Peter Williams, Heaton Moor, Stockport
Granted, there is a natural tendency to be more concerned, more interested, in events nearby than those half a globe away. Most of us have friends or family members in Texas, some of us have visited or lived in the very places that we are seeing in the news in Houston and other areas, which makes the flooding and devastation in Texas much more personal. Few of us have ever been to India, Nepal, Pakistan or Bangladesh. However, we must not overlook the tragedies there … tragedies so much more severe than even those in Texas.
A few snippets from a variety of news stories …
“Downpours on a broad arc across the Himalayan foothills have damaged or washed away hundreds of thousands of homes and vast swaths of farmland, as well as causing landslides, damaging roads and taking down power lines.”
“Across the South Asian region an estimated 40 million people have been affected and children are unable to attend 18,000 schools, leading to fears for their future education.”
“Vast swaths of land are underwater in the eastern part of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where more than 100 people have reportedly died, 3,097 villages are submerged and almost 3 million villagers have been affected by flooding.”
“The storm reached Pakistan on Thursday, lashing the port city of Karachi, where at least 14 people have died, and streets have been submerged by water. Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy who was crushed when a building belonging to the Federal Investigation Agency collapsed. Most of the dead were electrocuted.”
It is important to remember the differences in economies that affect not only rescue and relief efforts, but also the ability to rebuild. Much of the devastated area in South Asia are small villages. In some areas, crops were destroyed, placing food security in jeopardy. The infrastructure in South Asia is much older, less stable than in the U.S. The governments in the South Asian nations do not have the resources to help victims that the U.S. has. Overall there is less wealth, fewer people who are able to contribute much in the way of disaster relief and re-building the area.
Whether it’s here at home or across the ocean, children and families have been stranded in their homes. Many have lost everything. Education has been disrupted. Businesses have been closed, destroyed. It will take a long time for people to restart their lives.
So, while proximity and familiarity make it natural for us to pay greater attention to the human tragedy in Texas, let us also remember our fellow human beings on the other side of this globe we all share. And let us remember that no one life is greater than the other.