Remember the world’s other disasters

Writing in The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg points to the awful fact that victims of the world’s most dramatic and accessible disasters– like the recent tsunami– get most of the world’s attention, compassion and assistance.

Nearly four million men, women, and children have died as a consequence of the Congo civil war. Seventy thousand have perished in the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. In the year just ended, scores of thousands died in wars and massacres elsewhere in Africa, in Asia, in the archipelagoes of the Pacific, and, of course, in Iraq. Less dramatically, but just as lethally, two million people died of malaria around the world, and another million and a half of diarrhea. Five million children died of hunger. Three million people died of aids, mostly in Africa. The suffering of these untimely and terrible deaths—whether inflicted by deliberate violence, the result of human agency, or by avoidable or treatable malady, the result of human neglect—is multiplied by heartbroken parents and spouses, numbed and abandoned children, and, often, ruined survivors vulnerable to disease and predation and dependent, if they are lucky, on the spotty kindness of strangers.

As Hertzberg notes, what makes it even more awful is that almost all these less “spectacular” deaths were, in one way or another, preventable.

I don’t bring this up to denigrate those who have helped the tsunami survivors, or to suggest that those survivors deserve any less assistance than they are getting. But don’t we have to face the terrible fact that– by the standards of obscure and chronic disasters– they are among the more fortunate?