The big story in this week’s news was the devastating tropical cyclone which battered the densely-populated east coast of India. The equivalent of a category five hurricane built up speed over the warm waters of the Indian Ocean before hitting land last weekend causing untold damage and affecting up to 12 million people.
I say it was the big story of the week but actually after a few articles in the papers over the weekend and some TV news coverage by midweek it had slipped down to the middle and back pages. Today it’s almost nowhere to be found unless you seek it out. Not only is there no Cyclone Phailin story on the BBC news webpage, there’s nothing on the world news page. Only when you click onto the India section is there anything about it.
This is because only 27 people died. Without mass deaths, disasters just don’t make the news. The cruel irony is that the fact only 27 people died should be a huge news story in itself – the last time a similar strength cyclone hit India’s east coast in 1999 10,000 were killed. The amazing reduction in the death toll is the result of a co-ordinated evacuation of almost one million people and effective precautions taken by the Indian government and relief agencies. Better forecasting such as early warning systems to alert at-risk communities meant thousands of lives were saved – and column inches never written.
Not only was this miraculous lifesaving effort not deemed newsworthy, the lack of blood meant the acute and immediate humanitarian need failed to get the oxygen of publicity it needs. Hundreds of thousands of survivors avoided death but are currently stranded and homeless waiting for emergency relief. Around 300,000 homes have been destroyed in 16,000 villages with hundreds of thousands of further homes damaged. Power lines have snapped, fishing nets and boats have been destroyed or washed away. Livelihoods have been ruined, businesses wrecked. Despite the launching ofemergency appeals such as Christian Aid’s, funds have only trickled in because of the lack of media interest. By avoiding death, the suffering have been victims of their own success.
As Christians we should try to be aware of the true need around us and look for where we can make an impact. Let’s not just be led by the obvious or fashionable but seek out the opportunities to shine a light on the mundane and out-of-the-way. Jesus often spent his time with those on the periphery, the forgotten and the stigmatised. Whether it was singling out and visiting the hated tax collector Zacchaeus, or helping the mentally ill and shunned Mary Magdalene, healing lepers or recruiting humble fisherman to be his disciples, Jesus looked beyond the obvious and confounded expectations by investing his time and attention in unpopular and broken people.
Often the most overlooked and unloved are where we can have most impact. Like the forgotten thousands waiting for humanitarian help in India, unworthy of airtime, we can often make an impact in the lives of people who are hidden, awkward and in need of love and relationship.
Joe Ware is church & campaigns journalist for Christian Aid