Hurricane Matthew: In Haiti the death toll stands at 877 but the US media does not seem to care

Haiti is ill-equipped to respond to natural disasters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Four minutes before 10am on Friday morning, Reuters 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 two million 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.

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 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey”, etc?

haiti-ignore-2.jpg
Haiti is ill-equipped to deal with disasters (AP)

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 about $1,700 (£1,365). 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 his 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 10 million 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 about a dozen people died. Ms Amazan said she had no food to give people.

Jacqueline Charles, the Caribbean Correspondent for the Miami Herald and who is based in Port-au-Prince, has been providing updates for her newspaper and via her Twitter feed.

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 of officials in Georgia and South Carolina to evacuate people from those areas that were likely to be hit by floods. Officials expressed concerns about the potential damage to the historic cities of Savannah and Charleston.

Reuters later reported that the death toll in Haiti had reached 877. It was expected to rise further.

Comments