Sandy’s unacknowledged victims

Hurricane Sandy flooding Haiti once again and the need to raise houses up: Disaster Housing Alternatives By Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects | cc: flickr

Hurricane Sandy flooding Haiti once again and the need to raise houses up: Disaster Housing Alternatives By Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects | cc: flickr

The night that Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean coast, CNN described how the storm hit New Jersey. Only a few sharp-eyed people noticed the small line at the bottom of the screen that mentioned fatalities in the Caribbean islands. None of the reporters in the studio spoke of the destruction there.

The hurricane once again revealed what goes on behind the scenes of the media’s coverage. As it turns out, the hurricane did not skip over the Caribbean Islands on its way to the United States.

The number of known fatalities in the islands currently stands at 70, of which 54 occurred in Haiti, 11 in Cuba, and several in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. The combined population of the islands is around 40 million people who are exceptionally exposed to natural disasters such as Sandy.

Haiti was devastated by the hurricane. Agricultural crops, those in storage and those under preparation for the winter, as well as the warehouses in which they were stored, were destroyed. In Cuba, more than 200,000 homes were damaged and only a small portion of the country’s renowned coffee beans were saved. In other islands, crops were ruined when the people who harvest them were forced to wait until the storm ended. Throughout the Caribbean there is widespread fear of potential disease from contaminated waters.

In Jamaica, authorities imposed a two-day curfew, which was promptly violated by people who looted shops. More than 70 percent of the people who relied on electricity from the country’s only provider were left without power for days.

Damage to private homes and public infrastructure in the Bahamas was assessed at around $300 million.

Why didn’t the media cover the tremendous tragedy that befell the Caribbean? Was it too hard for people to fathom the damages? Of course not. Are the Caribbean Islanders unimportant? They too are people, but apparently reality proves otherwise.

The destruction in the Caribbean caused by Sandy was a double-edged sword. Not only was there damage to both people and property, but the destitute survivors who reside on the islands now face starvation (supply routes were damaged), endemic diseases (Haitians fear an outbreak of cholera) and rising costs of food products.

The media, which is supposed to take a balanced approach to reporting events around the world, focused on the U.S. and relegated the Caribbean tragedy to a mere footnote, and in so doing possibly denied the islands much-needed world aid.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who went from the storm straight into the elections, symbolizes the upward mobility of the downtrodden. But like other politicians, he too gives precedence to Americans suffering from the results of the hurricane, despite his promises of aid to the weaker elements in society. Take, for example, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which is still in operation despite Obama’s promise to shut it down during his previous election campaign. Although electricity was also reportedly down in the prison due to the storm, no media outlet cared to cover the conditions of the prisoners there.

What will happen now in the Caribbean? Who will hear their voices? At the moment, there are no clear answers to those questions. There will be no aid for people living in countries that are not reported as suffering. When the world media and politicians consider problems in the Third World a low priority, helpless people have nowhere to turn.

This article was first published on Israel Hayom

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About Mati Shemoelof

משורר, עורך וסופר. A Writer

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