The catastrophe we forgot: Cyclone Pam


Image credit: 350, Isso Nihmei

Foundation Beyond Belief is currently running a Humanist Disaster Recovery Drive to support recovery efforts in Vanuatu. 100% of donations go directly to CARE Australia.

8,449 miles from New York City is Port Vila, the capitol of the small island nation of Vanuatu. Five days ago, a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone (what we call hurricanes) with wind speeds topping 165 mph blew over the small island nation, culminating in what is being called the worst disaster in the small nation’s history. The geography of Vanuatu is that of 80 islands spread out over 4,329 square miles. Still, days later there are populated islands that no one in the rest of the world has heard from.

If you didn't know that happened, you’re not alone.

Cyclone Pam has been far from front-page news in the United States despite unanimous claims from major international NGOs such as Oxfam, the Red Cross, and CARE, and UN organizations on the ground that the destruction is among the worst they have ever seen. In many areas, there is near total destruction: homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, crops all gone.

So why is it when the story-hungry, 24-hour, sensationalized media finally has a catastrophe on their hands they have all but ignored it? Why, when the president of a country is appealing for international aid, when aid workers, the people who respond to disasters for a living, and the United Nations are all heralding the news, has the press stayed silent?

Assuredly there are all manner of reasons why the devastation hasn’t been on the front page, and when it has been reported on, the severity of the destruction and the critical nature of securing aid have been downplayed in the United States. Not only has the New York Times yet to feature the story, on March 17th after communication had been restored and reports of catastrophic damage were pouring out, they relegated all reporting of this story to a small paragraph in the bottom corner of page A6.

Is a death toll of 11 not enough? Is Vanuatu too small, too poor, and too far away for them to care about? With communications completely down, have there not been enough heart-wrenching photos to create a compelling visual narrative? Are they afraid this might be a catalyst for a climate change conversation we are not ready to have?

The residents of Vanuatu are not helpless. They are strong, resilient people, but they, as would any nation that experiences such a disaster, require assistance from the international community. This catastrophe and the people of Vanuatu deserve more than the bottom corner of A6.

Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to be one of the few US-based nonprofits raising funds for the people of Vanuatu. 100% of donations will be given to CARE Australia, a secular nonprofit that has been working in the country since 2008 on a variety of disaster resilience and climate change projects, and who currently are providing emergency aid to those in need.

Click here to donate to the Vanuatu relief efforts.