Talk about Newsnight


Reaction to disasters in China and Burma

  • Newsnight
  • 14 May 08, 03:15 PM

china_quake203.jpgTwo big disasters in Burma and China have hit in recent days causing massive causalities.

But are they having the same impact on us compared to the Asian Tsunami in 2004?

If not why is that?


  • Comment number 1.

    I truly believe that the Tsunami made a greater impact on the Western psyche simply because some of those nations affected were popular holiday spots, e.g. Thailand / Sri Lanka or held a personal place within the hearts of immigrants who had come from South Asia. Compare those countries to little known Myanmar (Burma) or the demonised nation that is China and it is clear to see why the collective horror may not be quite as heartfelt. I also believe that the UK media has a distinct anti-east Asian bias and this will be reflected in the collective nation's attitudes.

  • Comment number 2.


  • Comment number 3.

    I get the impression that the authorities in those countries do not want our help, reports from Burma suggest they are plundering the aid rather than distributing it.
    If they want help they will get it.

  • Comment number 4.

    No they aren't, and for three reasons:

    1. Because each disaster has affected only one country so, although the loss of life is enormous in both cases, it doesn't have the same impact as the tsunami which hit a huge region.

    2. In the case of Burma because it's so hard to get information on the ground that it is hard to comprehend the scale of the personal tragedies unfolding.

    3. In the case of China, to an extent I think there is relief that the authorities appear to have mounted an excellent rescue operation, which contrasts favourably with Burma and gives the impression that for some at least, help is at hand.

    PS - could you correct the spelling of 'casualties' in your initial post?

  • Comment number 5.

    I doubt if it's a collective compassion fatigue that has led to a rather low key response to these recent disasters. In the case of Burma people could be forgiven for wondering whether the aid they subscribe to is reaching the intended recipients. We may be as suspicious of the Myanmar government as they are of the motive of the governments of courties which have offered assistance. In the case of China, the authorities there have risen to the challenge and are maming valiant efforts - perhaps because they don't wish to seem needy and also they are hosting the Olyjpic Games this year and want things to appear to be as "normal" as possible in that incrutable country. The third reason for a low key resposne could be that the sheer scale of these disasters is just beyond the capacity of aid agencies and relief teams.

  • Comment number 6.

    I suspect that the impact is less because:
    1. It has not happened at Christmas
    2. Burma and China are perceived as 'less deserving' due to adverse political comments
    3. There is less transparency and a fear that anything sent will not get to the beneficiary

  • Comment number 7.

    Compassion fatigue

  • Comment number 8.

    It's probably because a lot of people had friends/family in the Asian Tsunami region at the time - two of my best friends were out in Thailand and I had only been able to make contact with one of them - all I knew about the other one was that she and her daughter had been on a flight to Thailand and no other information after that. Thankfully she made contact a few days later! Another reason is that they were popular holiday destinations such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand etc and they are very relaxed open countries. China is still quite closed, and Burma far more so, maybe the lack of familiarity and their regimes has stopped people caring so much. Aid wasn't even allowed into Burma until recently.

  • Comment number 9.

    Every day people like me get either telephone canvassing, canvassing by post and/or at the door for donations to so many different charities. Also many of us have found our own problems worsening because of the credit crunch, lack of any social services help etc. that we are suffering from compassion fatigue-plus-plus.

    I have to smile because despite being an 82-yr old and the only carer for my handicapped son, yet we still get requests for donations from Help the Aged type charities etc. so the problems of the world have now become a bit of a blur to say the least. Thanks.

  • Comment number 10.

    Media access

  • Comment number 11.

    The tsunami came during what is supposed to be a festive time of goodwill and peace in the West, and thus hightened the contrast between what we have at home, and what they were losing over there, not to mention there was a 'captive audience' for the news and subsequent appeals. People felt the tragedy much more and were thus more compelled to donate.

    In relation to Burma, people will obviously not give if they don't believe that the money will go where it is supposed to or do what the gesture is supposed to ie. to make a difference.

    With respect to China, the speedy response seems to imply less need, and there seems to be no widespread appeals for assistance from the usual venues eg. DEC. A google search only revealed the Oxfam Hong Kong donation site.

  • Comment number 12.

    Err because the 2004 Tsunami was the sixth worst natural disaster (by death toll) in recorded history and Burma and China 2008 aren't yet in that league.

    The other 5 are :
    1931 Yellow River flood
    1887 Yellow River flood
    1556 Shaanxi earthquake
    1970 Bhola cyclone, Bangladesh
    1839 India Cyclone

    although the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake would be in there too if they'd told the truth about the death toll. Which would place 4 of the top 6 in China, even if you ignore disease and famine.

  • Comment number 13.

    It was Christmas so people had time to ponder the impact of the tsunami. Also a lot of westerners involved and countries affected were/are fairly westernised.

    By contrast, everyone is busy in May, very few have been (or would condone going) to the failed state of Burma, and China is perceived to be massively resourced and somewhat aloof to our help.

  • Comment number 14.

    Perhaps the fault, dear Newsnight, is in the Stars… and in TV’s preference for visual TV stories to lead the news even if of low objective news value? Burma is a news editors nightmare. Yes there were lots of deaths, (though not at the Christmas Tsunami level), and all occurring as a result of one rapidly occurring event - which makes much better TV than, say, a major ongoing famine, (TV news values respond uneasily to slow, drawn out dying of large numbers). In Burma’s case there is also the added potential of a fear of a rapidly unfolding humanitarian crisis, but it still fails to hold editors interest as, perhaps, it should because:

    Westerners don’t take holidays in either Myanmar or Burma so there was a shortage of visiting English residents to provide instant “I was there” reports and videos of events as they unfolded. AND

    Disgracefully and irresponsibly, as well as barring mere relief workers, the Generals have resisted providing opportunities for heroic UK news crews to reach front line locations and report back live to their studios. If there is no good video, no suitable UK linked human interest stories then it is not obviously a “good” news story to push.

    Radio news is oft times different in its choice of lead stories - and possibly better – it perforce relies on more objective news values than TV ‘cos it can’t be tempted by pictures….. News 24 and Sky News however feel they need pictures of visual “events”: the anonymous prison van delivering someone newsworthy to or from a courtroom; the live news conference where no questions but only the answers can be heard; or the reporter on a Sunday evening outside an empty Whitehall building . Low in news value – but they are live….

    Perhaps the fault lies not in the news organisations but in ourselves that we are silly things easily distracted by shiny pretty baubles…

  • Comment number 15.

    no it's not going tohave the same impact.becauseof tsunami many countries are effected starting from indonesia to kenya.where as the cyclonic storm in burma or earthe quake in china are limited to only to those particular countries.but whatever it is all the countries should come forward and give the helping handto the effected countries.the effected countries should kep aside their strained relations aside with their neighbours and receive the foreign aid.

  • Comment number 16.

    the effect of earthe quake is not going to show the effect as done by only two countries are effected by natural disaster but the casualities are more what i feel is the effected countries should accept foreign aid for the survivours and get situation to normality.the respected govt.s should take necessary steps from breaking out of epedemics

  • Comment number 17.

    First, all of the events are the Hand of God.
    Trust onto God and he shall direct your path. If not your path certainly will see some light along the way if you don't "believe" in God hand in the affairs of man.
    The Asian Tsuami occur exactly one year to the day, the day after Christmas that is, from a like kind of event a year earlier. Both events occurred in the Muslim world. Very little change and few Muslims from other countries helped or even paided for the disasters for thier fellow Muslim country in suffering. But American and England's militarties and missions were there to help. The disaster in China and Burma have a common cause too. They are allied and have taken pro-active actions against freedom and God loving people. Beating Holy Men maybe the favor of the month, to show power, but comes with a price. The price that the people may want a change in there government leaders.

  • Comment number 18.

    The Tsunami was four years ago--different world.Although we truly feel horrified for these people we now understand where aid we give DOESN'T go.We have enough of our own troubles with the rising cost of everything--due to the bureaucrats idiocy--to give money without it being accountable.If it was a question of neighbours in this trouble we would give food, clothing and shelter willingly and immediately.We could see the results.But not to these countries who make no effort to help themselves .

  • Comment number 19.

    Burma. OK, the Burmese Government, for wahtever reason, do not want any assistance from the west, particularly from the USA (and on their track record of invading other countries who can blame them!!), so, fair enough, they can manage on their own, get on with it!

    China earthquake. Now maybe it is just me, but I suspect that the only reason China are being so open about this earthquake is perhaps, just perhaps, they dont want anything to upset the 2008 Olympics....

    Or am I just being an old cynical b***rd!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    I am holding off donating to the DEC appeal for Burma due to the fact that the Burmese governent is generally not allowing more than a tiny amount of aid into the country. If this improves then I shall certainly contribute.

  • Comment number 21.

    This was the first huge Tsunami to occur in the modern media age. We were shocked, and fascinated, by this little known phenomenon. Earthquakes and cyclones, by comparison, are common.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think that there will soon be a serious problem in China. As local peasants see the largess of the Olympic games then I think they will demand a change. The communist authorities rule by fear but you can only fool some of the people some of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Some of these famous quotes are as true today as the day they were written. We are living in an illusion of our own making and if you think that the great depression cannot possibly happen again then you had better open your eyes.

  • Comment number 23.

    The appeal is really only about Burma; as far as I can see China is doing its best to be self-sufficient and is not asking for emergency aid of any description.

    The Burma appeal isn’t gathering much support mainly because of the intransigent attitude of the Burmese govt. People won’t give if they think the aid isn’t going to get in to the country and to the people in need. The lack of access also means that reporters can’t get in and report from the areas most in need of assistance; we shouldn’t forget the importance of media coverage in mobilising public sympathy. But I think they key factor is that people need to feel that the aid will reach the people in need in a speedy, effective fashion. Media images of food being distributed, hospitals being set up reassure them that this is the case.

    There is probably truth in the comments above saying that Bangladesh and Burma are countries that are not often visited by western tourists. The tsunami appeal was so successful because many people had some attachment to the countries affected; also because so many western tourists were directly affected. (And could supply first hand accounts.)

    What few seem to be commenting upon is just how remarkable the Chinese response is; particularly compared to the 1959-61 famine of the Mao years (30 million died) which even Mao wasn’t told about; after all his agricultural ‘reforms’ were supposed to be working!

    The Chinese response has been fast (compare it with the days after Katrina in the states), very open media wise (astonishing given the Olympics is only a few weeks away) and seems to be quite efficient given the circumstances. This isn’t China showing off, it shows just how far the reformers in the Communist Party have come in recent years. (Being pro-Tibet I’m also glad they’ve opened discussions with the Dali Lama’s representatives.)

    PS. To comment on tpbeta’s list of ‘biggest disasters above. China and India have a long history of famines killing millions, often linked to the El Nino cycle that disrupts the jet streams that bring monsoon rains. The 1877 famine killed around 15 million in India and China. The 1899 famine killed an even greater number. Go far enough back in time and the Black Death killed around half of Europe’s population. Lets just hope we never see anything on this scale again.

  • Comment number 24.

    I just feel cash is creamed off by too many who can get their hands on it! what a pity agency's aren't encouraged to send aid workers and show greater accountancy.
    It must also be said, thousands of our own flood victims would still appreciate aid. Many are still waiting to get back into their homes. How can we brush them aside along with our own homeless, situations are allowed to go un-checked here that would be addressed if we saw happening abroad.

  • Comment number 25.

    From the China's earthquake, why don't we think about our housing structure in the UK. We also haven't got cramp iron to support the houses while builing them. Although we are not in the frequent earthquake zone, it doesn't mean no earchquake forever as well as cyclone. We should learn from the disaster and think of ourselves to prevent the disaster.

  • Comment number 26.

    A significant reason is that very few Britons, if any, are directly affected by these catastrophes, as was the case with the recent Pakistani earthquake. The 2004 tsunami affected hundreds of Britons living or holidaying in the countries affected such as Thailand and Sri Lanka.

  • Comment number 27.

    The Tsunami in my mind was a huge event with a great number of casualties... I remember watching the news and checking the news web site and being incredible horrorized by the destruction seen all over... I personally never heard of a Tsunami for example but of course I knew much too well about earthquakes and cyclones... so the Tsunami was a whole new catastrophe...

    On the other hand I lived in Indonesia and also visited Thailand and Sri Lanka a number of times the Tsunami hit areas and places closer to my heart... and that always makes a difference


  • Comment number 28.

    Two disasters that is making it hard for resources to be found!


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