Hurricane Matthew left a path of destruction in its wake and was the longest-lasting category 5 hurricane on record in the Eastern Caribbean. It died down to a category 1 hurricane on Oct. 8 as it hit North Carolina. As of Oct. 12, 39 people died in the U.S. and over 1,000 people died in Haiti, which is still rebuilding from the 2010 earthquake that killed around 316,000.
Search interests in hurricane updates on Google Trends reached their peak on Oct. 6, but have gone down to 2 percent of what they were only six days later. This is because the hurricane has died down to harsh weather and the U.S. is already recovering from the damages — however Haiti is not. Current metrics are obviously skewed by affected areas in the U.S. searching for news relevant to their area, but the larger concern of the nation as a whole is focusing on the destruction in Florida and North Carolina rather than Haiti.
This one-sided coverage detracts from a broader, urgently needed conversation about the disparity in coverage of environmental issues, their impact on impoverished areas and the direct result of aid provided by foreign nations.
President Obama gave a speech on Oct. 7 expressing the gravity of the hurricane’s devastation. He encouraged people to text donations to the American Red Cross to support Haiti with emergency disaster relief like food, blankets and shelter. The Red Cross, however, has a history of misrepresenting how donations will be used. After the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the organization raised $500 million to rebuild the country. It was one of the most successful fundraising efforts ever, yet contrary to what the Red Cross reported, only six homes were built.
According to NPR and ProPublica, the shortcomings in aid were a result of “string of failures.” Though the Red Cross declined to release documents detailing where the money went, they insisted that they helped about 4.5 million Haitians, which the Haitian prime minister at the time, Jean-Max Bellerive, denied. Simply stated, the money was not going toward its intended cause — to rebuild Haitian infrastructure. Although this is a larger conversation in itself, it is being controlled by the U.S. — coverage and focus is on domestic destruction, while aid is also dominated by the U.S., often not with the best results.
International coverage of the hurricane has focused on the Caribbean and Haiti, but in the U.S., attention has focused on Florida and the flooding in North Carolina. While it is understandable that national news organizations cover the effects of Hurricane Matthew on U.S. soil, international neighbors cannot be overlooked.
While we should not compare tragedies, as all life lost in this disaster is terrible, we critique how they are presented and portrayed in the media. We cannot excuse the lack of support and coverage that other nations, like Haiti, face.
2015 was the warmest our oceans have been and professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, Michael Mann, told Democracy Now on Oct. 6, “It’s that warmth that provides the energy that intensifies these storms. And it isn’t a coincidence that we’ve seen the strongest hurricane in both hemispheres within the last year.”
Although climate change cannot be directly blamed as the cause of Hurricane Matthew — it can be said that, by burning coal, natural gas and oil, we have heated the atmosphere and oceans which intensify and elongate the hurricane season.
Climate change has a growing impact on our lives, but that’s particularly true for the lives of communities in impoverished countries — historically communities with high populations of people of color.
The issues surrounding aid, especially foreign aid, are part of a larger system of reliance on foreign nations that hinders countries’ growth and development. Haitians on social media have explicitly asked people not to donate to the Red Cross. Contributions should be made to Haitian-led organizations and non-Haitian organizations that have provided valuable resources to Haiti in the past, to ensure that the money will go toward what is needed and has been promised.
When it comes to natural disasters, U.S. news outlets failed to provide fair coverage to regions where the destruction is more vast and severe than it is in U.S. and are all too quick to spotlight white, comparatively privileged Americans that are affected, though hundreds are suffering right on our doorstep. Rather than separating the hurricane’s destruction in the U.S. from that in Haiti, we should recognize that this was a disaster that affected us both and that it is our collective problem.
To donate to rebuilding Haiti, you can go to savethechildren.org or 3littleflowers.org.