Editorial: On shaky ground
Just as the devastation in Haiti was fading — prematurely — from our minds, Chile and Japan both experienced high-registering earthquakes over the weekend.
Japan escaped with no reports of severe damage, although the quake was a 7.1 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Chile, however, was rocked with an 8.8-magnitude earthquake, and is reporting over 700 deaths. The numbers will likely keep rising.
Though the tremor was 500 to 900 times more powerful than that in Haiti, the death toll, while still unbearably high, is hundreds of times lower.
Why? In addition to being different types of quakes and different population densities near the epicenters, Chile is accustomed to frequent earthquakes, and has built the infrastructure to handle it. Buildings in Port-au-Prince, in comparison, unfortunately were not held to a high enough standard. Chile is also one of the economically strongest countries in South America — Haiti is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, according to the CIA World Factbook. It is astounding how quickly poverty can intensify a tragedy.
Beyond the destruction in Chile, the quake sent a tsunami warning across the Pacific and some of the Atlantic oceans.
Beaches in Hawaii were evacuated in anticipation of massive waves, but the state escaped largely unscathed.
Some news outlets chose to focus on Hawaii rather than on Chile. Many have decried the coverage as sensationalizing the news.
But what might be even more disturbing is the public’s reaction to the stories of tragedy. As CNN showed coverage of a Hawaiian beach, many spectators eagerly waited for the colossal waves to begin barraging the island state. When did disasters become entertainment?
Are we so numb to disasters in our world that we watch for the video footage and not for the people?
Media culture certainly doesn’t discourage it, feeding us with a 24-hour news cycle. United Nations officials have even commented that coverage of the Haiti aftermath was “disaster porn,” used to boost ratings, according to The Week.
To be sure, the outpouring in reaction to the Haiti earthquake was tremendous, not only in the States, but at our own University. ASU showed tremendous compassion for Haitians struggling, organizing food, clothing and money drives.
Certainly, Chile is not as desperate as Haiti was, and continues to be, and Hawaii made it through the tsunami warning untouched.
But we should be wary of tuning into watch these disasters unfold because it appeals to our sense of excitement and not to our sense of sympathy.
Adrenaline and apathy cannot make up for care and compassion. The world is facing too many problems — we can’t turn them off when we’re done watching television.