Haiti Falls from the Headlines, But Situation Remains Dire
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, writes in the Huffington Post that although the plight of Haitians has faded from the media limelight, the situation is no less dire. Messinger writes:
According to the latest UN figures, 1.3 million Haitians have been left homeless by the quake. Some of these Haitians are no longer sleeping in abandoned cars but in flimsy structures fashioned from plastic sheeting and salvaged wood--a minuscule improvement, to say the least. Over 218,000 survivors are living in makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince at immediate grave risk of flooding and landslides.
In the minds of too many of the privileged and the powerful, post-earthquake Haitian society has become little more than a faded photograph. Survivors' shelter and medical needs are no longer in focus or in vogue and too many relief efforts are being shortchanged. Virtually nothing is being done by either the Haitian government or international actors for those who will be flooded out of their squatter camps. Large-scale food aid--often distributed inequitably--has nearly run dry.
When Messinger worked as Manhattan Borough President there was a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the cities homeless fighting for their legal right to shelter. The New York State supreme court eventually ruled in their favor. Messinger asks, "What would it take to make emergency shelter a right not a privilege for Haitians?". She continues:
To put it bluntly, if Haiti were a country populated by white middle-class people, surely we would be responding differently and with greater haste. Surely we would not allow white English speakers to live in such dismal conditions. We would not expect Haitians to fend for themselves in rubble after emergency relief caravans have all but disappeared.
Echoing Messinger's claims that media coverage has largely subsided, John Sides at Salon.com reports on the major media's coverage of the quake. Sides looks at coverage in the New York Times, finding:
Indeed, a comparison of New York Times stories about three recent natural disasters -- Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and the earthquake in Haiti -- shows that the issue-attention cycle characterizes news coverage of each.
The graph below begins seven days before each disaster and continues for 90 days thereafter. With the exception of Hurricane Katrina, which garnered a few stories as it approached the Gulf Coast, coverage began in earnest right after each disaster struck. In each case, it then quickly reached a peak (which is, unsurprisingly, highest for Katrina, the lone domestic disaster) before quickly declining. In the case of Haiti, it declined to a trickle, with perhaps one story a day.
Sides notes that the news know this is the case, quoting Sanjay Gupta of CNN, who told the New York Times:
"We all know what’s going to happen. People are just going to lose interest in this as a story. They’re going to stop watching."
Gupta's warning seems to have come to fruition, but as Ruth Messinger writes, just because the story has slipped from the limelight, the situation remains dire for hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians.