Four minutes before 10am on Friday morning, the Reuters news agency provided an update on the death toll in Haiti. At a minimum, the news agency said, 572 people had lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
At almost precisely the same time, CNN was broadcasting live footage of the storm as it passed northwest along the coast of Florida, from where more than 2m people had fled. The winds were strong, the waves powerful and there was genuine concern about the potentially deadly impact of the storm surge.
But at that moment, the number of US fatalities as a result of the category four storm was zero. The Haitian death toll barely made a mention in the network’s rolling coverage.
Reuters said the death toll had reached 842, and was expected to rise further (AP)
Should we even still be surprised by any of this. Have we not grown cold and cynical. Do we not all know that the media values some lives more than others. Have we forgotten the anecdote from one British newsroom that “one dead in Putney equals ten dead in Paris equals one hundred dead in Turkey”, etc?
Haitians are no strangers to this global lack of concern. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with an average per capita annual income of around $1,700. Educational and medical facilities are inadequate and overburdened. Corruption is rife. The primary ambition of many, if not most young people is to leave for somewhere else. Most are unable to.
The US, the regional power, has long interfered politically in Haiti. In 1991, the first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in a coup backed by the CIA. He was returned, under a deal brokered by Bill Clinton, only to be forced into exile again in 2004, with this opponents once more receiving the backing of elements in Washington.
Ever since, Washington has played kingmaker to a succession of leaders, few who have done little to help the 10m people of the first country to be created by slaves who literally fought for their freedom.
As the world witnessed when a powerful earthquake struck in 2010, killing at least 150,000 people, this nation – ill-equipped at the best of times – struggles to respond when disaster strikes.
(By contrast, in Cuba, where just a handful of people died, the central government has long become used to responding to such storms and ordering people into evacuation centres in good time.)
Reuters said information was trickling in from across Haiti, large parts of which had been cut off. At least 61,000 people were in emergency shelters, cellphone networks were down and roads were flooded by sea and river water. With aid slow to arrive, people were helping themselves.
“My house wasn’t destroyed, so I am receiving people, like it’s a temporary shelter,” said Bellony Amazan in the town of Cavaillon, where around a dozen people died. Ms Amazan said she had no food to give people.
Jacqueline Charles, the Caribbean Correspondent of the Miami Herald and who is based in Port-au-Prince, has been providing updates for her newspaper and via her Twitter feed.
“Today, there is nothing left in Pestel, it has become a desert,” mayor of Pestel who left at 2 am to get word out on the disaster. #Matthew
One resident of the town of Jeremie, 26-year-old Andre Moise told her: “We’ve lost everything – our animals, our harvest, our documents. All we have is the clothes you see on our backs, and the water from the coconuts.”
What makes the majority of the US media’s lack of interest all the more remarkable, is that Haiti is not a million miles away. Indeed, it sits just 800 miles to the south-east of Florida. A flight from Miami takes barely an hour-and-a-half.
Some time after 1.15pm on Friday, CNN turned to the efforts by officials in Georgia and South Carolina to evacuate people from those areas that were likely to be hit by floods. Officials deep expressed about the potential damage to the historic cities of Savannah and Charleston.
At about the same time, Reuters reported that the death toll in Haiti had reached to 842. It was expected to rise
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