Confronting the Worse: Writing & Catastrophe
I have been a roaming correspondent in Africa, Asia, and Latin America for a long time, have seen many catastrophes, and have often had to write about them. There is a nexus between the disaster and power. Most of the victims of earthquakes are the poor living in slums and shantytowns. One little earthquake or tropical downpour can raze those poorly built neighborhoods, killing and maiming the inhabitants. Corruption as well as poverty contributes to the number of casualties of natural disasters. Many contractors received huge government grants to guarantee the cost of safe construction but build cheap, miserable houses that fall apart during the first minor quake.
When dealing with natural catastrophes, the media limits itself to single out-of-context images of rescue teams looking for buried people or relief workers bringing medical aid and food. The context of those catastrophes is far more dramatic than we see on our television or read in the paper. Each disaster has not only direct casualties but also aftereffects.
Two weeks after the 2004 tsunami, a fine photographer showed me some pictures of an Indian town ravaged by the wave. He was in despair because no one wanted to publish them—the event was already considered out of date.