Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Malawi had an earthquake

A few days ago I spotted right at the bottom of the news24 page a little story, almost an aside, about the fact that Malawi had suffered an earthquake. It was quite a large and significant earthquake. Up to 100 people were killed, according to one uncertain-sounding story (which it turns out didn't have any real info). Thousands have been affected. A boarding school dormitory fell on the sleeping students. Aid agencies are pleading for food aid. It's three days to Christmas. How did no one notice that Malawi had an earthquake?

One of the news sources I follow - partly because I'm stranded rather far away from the English speaking world - is the BBC. It didn't make the front page. It didn't even manage to be a lead story on the Africa page. Even the South African news sites didn't give it much coverage. I haven't even seen a picture of the situation. I am baffled.

It upsets me that the death of Brittany Murphy, while tragic, makes headline news and no one even seems to notice the equally tragic deaths of other people, some of them children, in Malawi. I realise many people have never heard of Malawi. I recently spent significant amounts of time explaining to the kids I teach - with the aid of hand-drawn maps - where Malawi is. But what exactly makes Malawi less important than, say, Italy?

All over the world, people are affected by natural disasters every day. Many of them never even get reported beyond the area where they occur. I remember the Tsunami a couple of years ago in South East Asia and the great outpouring of aid and sympathy. It makes me bitter to think that we are all so caught up in our own lives and our own places that we only feel the need to notice when our own people get hurt, when there are tourists involved.

Christmas has affected me more than ever this year, so far away from home and in a country with a somewhat ambivalent reaction to the holiday, but it makes me sad that we all care so little that no one sees the need to react to something this tragic in the midst of the holiday season, even if it did happen in a random African country most of us don't care about the rest of the time.

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