humedica commentary: why the world public is not interested in the heavy earthquake in Myanmar

by Steffen Richter,  2011/03/30

The bare figures are sad, however not spectacular. The latest heavy earthquake in Myanmar, former Burma, had a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale; but should we refer to this magnitude as being "low" or "substantial"? Nowadays, it seems difficult to choose the appropriate words. Although the world public is currently focussing on other topics and events, humedica will offer help also in this disaster region. Attempting to comment on a sad development.

It is a phenomenon of humankind that bursts geological and socio-cultural limits and easily overcomes any gaps between different mentalities: humankind is united by a craving for the ultimate. Ever higher, faster, further, wilder, bloodier, more negative and more unimaginable.

Massive destruction after the heavy earthquake in Myanmar. Photo:

We need to be faced with the spectacular, the particularly mad and highly risky, the unique and unprecedented in order to become interested. Our ethical and moral awareness is distorted, strongly distorted. Even 30 years ago, people could be entertained for days with endless reports about a faux pas being rendered on after all three full-time TV channels; today scandals are the indispensable key to success, often they are even launched in order to gain attention and raise ratings.

And then the speed of our quite transparent lives is even increased further by the internet, where we are on a permanent look-out for new culminations.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon also often affects our every-day operations as internationally active relief organisation. Only if certain parameters have been met, receives a disaster undivided attention: the number of casualties and injured, the extent of destruction, extreme individual cases of emergency or the combination of several disasters, as it has lately happened in Japan with the heavy earthquake, the following tsunami and the nuclear disaster.

Many a contradictory African ruler took advantage of the world public's attention being focussed on Japan for so many days. But anyway, it seems hardly realistic that international attention can be focussed on more than two topics at once.

And when a few days ago the above mentioned earthquake shook Myanmar and could even be felt in the capitals of Bangkok and Hanoi at a distance of several hundred kilometres, public and media interest was virtually zero despite the unclear situation: not heavy enough, not fast enough, not far enough can be summarised to ‘not spectacular enough’ and this leads to the decision: ineligible as new highlight among the daily news of horror.

Many people living in the surroundings of the - thankfully - sparsely inhabited epicentre have lost everything. Photo: REUTERS_Soe Zeya Tun

Actually, during the past years I have now and then observed this behaviour also in myself, and I become regularly alarmed by my own expectations e.g. regarding media reporting. The reason for this development taking place in our international community definitely is the already mentioned distortion of our awareness. A moon landing? Though after all it made a good Hollywood film, among all the other topics it was no longer considered to be really exciting even ten years ago.

The end of the Cold War? Long since part of a boring history you have never really completely understood anyway. The tsunami? Its extent has been exceeded by a terrible earthquake hitting the already incredibly poor state of Haiti and by the latest events in Japan.

We could make the cynical statement that the affected people in the mountainous epicentre of the earthquake in Myanmar simply had bad luck regarding the timing of the disaster, or that too few people have been affected, too few houses destroyed and that no camera crew is providing any pictures from the difficult to access region.

However, cynicism is not part of our work or our motivation. Although our work is often supported by external factors such as public interest or media attention, it is not dependent on them. Empathy and charity have been the important drive of the humedica commitment since 1979. And those motivators will also ensure that targeted help is offered to the people in the north east of Myanmar.

What is particularly encouraging is the fact that there definitely are some people who oppose the trends and who keep their eyes, ears and hearts wide open. We would like to thank all the friends and sponsors who - thanks to their long years of support - have enabled us to extend targeted relief also to the victims of supposedly minor disasters and who never lose sight of the individual persons' misery and help us to provide those persons with a future.

Japan has been hit hard and humedica clearly does not abdicate its responsibility. We support those affected and will continue doing so for many months to come, similar to our commitments after the tsunami in Sri Lanka or after the earthquake of 2010 in Haiti. But right at this moment many people in Myanmar are crying over their fate that has deprived them of everything, possibly even a direct family member, but certainly of any basis for a future and of all reasons to hope. Although the number of affected persons is lower, these people still need help - our help!

Dear friends and sponsors, how do you perceive the developments of the past few years? Do we want to get ever faster, higher and further? We would appreciate your feedback and we will keep you up to date about the situation in Myanmar.

At this point, we would also like to ask you to make a targeted donation for supporting our commitment in Myanmar:

      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Earthquake Myanmar"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Please also support us by means of an online donation.
You can also support us in a secure, fast and direct way by means of sending a text message: send a text message containing the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90. You will donate 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica relief projects.

Please visit this page again. Thank you very much!

Foto: REUTERS_Soe Zeya Tun

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