One foreign reporting job from long ago lives with me still. The great Bhola cyclone of 1970, pounding the shores of East Pakistan (soon to be Bangladesh) and West Bengal. Some 500,000 people reported dead. Delta islands swamped, desolate. And I was there, moving by rescue helicopter from one scene of horror to another across a vista of grey mud, flattened villages – and bodies, bodies everywhere. Bloated cows, huddled humans.
It keeps happening. Only last week the monsoon rains – dumping walls of water on Nepal and east India – flooded one-third of Bangladesh. “Farmers are left with nothing, not even with clean drinking water,” said Red Cross and Crescent leaders on the sodden ground. Count more than 1,200 more dead.
Which means that, together, we are wriggling on the same spot. We may want certain proportions of background and experience in our office environments. We may set ourselves ever tighter quotas. We want to do the right thing. But do we, in the coverage we embrace, reckon that one Texan flood victim is worth 12 Bangladesh dead? How do we equate the homeless of Houston with 5.7 million flood-blighted Bangladeshis?
The answer is that we don’t and can’t. Our world isn’t some imposed newsroom structure. The answer lies in how easily humanity and human interest go their separate ways. I’ll never forget the bleakness of that swamped Ganges delta long ago, an abiding lesson in the awful destructiveness that comes from sea and sky. But see how quickly you forget such horrors, impaled on a four-inch heel.
The articles appeared in the Guardian on 03/09/2017