Disaster Fatigue

The world has experienced several horrible natural disasters this past year. The devastating earthquake this month in the Kashmir region of Pakistan and India was the latest to capture our attention. But is the public becoming desensitized by these seemingly endless series of heartbreaking tragedies? Has “disaster fatigue” overwhelmed us all?

In a syndicated article this week, Susan Moeller a university professor and author of Compassion Fatigue, says that the media and the focus of its news coverage play a huge role in determining how the public reacts to these events. In the past, she says, the media thought of most natural disasters as “simple emergencies” that had a relatively short duration. “This all seemed to justify hit-and-run reporting," she writes. "Cover the drama and leave the clean-up for the experts.”

But that mindset, Moeller feels, has changed. After witnessing the social upheaval caused by the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, the media have come to the realization that what they have been covering are actually far more “complex” events.

“This newest global calamity is not just another ‘simple’ disaster,” stresses Moeller. “It is a complex emergency that is, and will turn out to be, about much more than the obliteration of homes and schools and roads and bridges. The earthquake in Pakistan, like the hurricane along the Gulf Coast and the Asian tsunami, will be found to have shattered a government’s carefully erected constructions about the responsibility it takes for its citizens. How Pakistan, Asia and the United States use these emergencies to rebuild not just infrastructure, but also social, political and diplomatic relationships, will be a story worth covering and a story worth watching.”

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