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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 11:37 GMT
Do we forget too quickly?

El Salvador's efforts to re-build the country after two earthquakes are being severely hampered because international aid is lacking.

Vice President Carlos Quintanilla said the international aid received so far was insufficient to cope with the damage.

In the past, officials in disaster areas have complained that once the initial media interest fades, so does international concern.

Yet those affected need months, or even years to recover from natural calamities.

Do we forget too quickly? Should we do more? Or are there just too many disasters for us to cope with?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The disasters which occur every single day must of course receive immediate news coverage and financial support. However, it is certainly a substantial problem of the modern western world that we are so often unaware of the months of rebuilding which must occur in such situations and the long-term devastation to people's lives. If only the media could play an active and constructive role in informing the public that the tragic results of natural disasters do not only last a week but a lifetime. Perhaps then we as a society would provide consistent and relevant aid to those who need it most.
Catherine, Britain

I agree with an earlier comment that we are bombarded with more and more issues everyday that it is impossible for all but the most prominent events to stick in your mind for any length of time. That does not mean that we do not sympathise with the plight of the people affected or with the causes involved
Tez, UK

Its not we forget, we just aren't told about it anymore. Perhaps if the richer counties donated more the Third World countries might stand a chance. I've watched the aid efforts and it seems like the UK is repeatedly putting one of the highest amounts forward. Maybe if countries like Japan (I can't remember them making a donation) contributed, the pain might be that little bit more bearable.

I don't blame the ordinary people, rather the governments.

Zafar, England
I don't blame the ordinary people, rather the governments. For years now I have grown up listening to the rhetoric coming from the "compassionate" governments of the west, however when you look at how they back up their words you see that their attempts are paltry. People accuse New Labour of spin and no substance, I feel that the whole of the western governments are guilty of that charge. As for the charities, they are no better. People donate money for a particular cause. Rather than spend the donations, they tend to hoard them for their own selfish purposes. What do they say? oh there could be another disaster next year and we need to prepare for it! The climate is already changing, look at the famines from Mongolia/Afghanistan to Africa. How many earthquakes have occurred in the last year? More than I can collectively remember for the last 20 years!
Zafar, England

Thank you so much for the help you have given to us and our country. El Salvador has suffered terribly these last weeks, all I ask of the people who donate their money and help, to be sure that the help will arrive to those people who need it. Many times donations and money never get to those who need it and most of it stays with the government. Please be sure that your help will arrive.
Nicole, El Salvador

I would happily give to agencies established to help in these situations if I was sure that my money would reach the victims in some form or another. However as a recent TV programme has shown very little aid actually reaches the people who need it. I now only give to local causes where I can actually see that my money is being spent properly.
Gill, UK

The key is preparedness for disasters

Denise van Wissen, Nicaragua
Perhaps one good thing came out of El Salvador's second quake: it got the media attention back again, and with it, hopefully, more aid. It's true that El Salvador's quakes can't be compared with India's in terms of number of victims, but practically the entire country has been devastated, not just a region. As many have already said, the key is preparedness for disasters, but it's a difficult task in countries where people are living a daily disaster at the best of times.
Denise van Wissen, Nicaragua

I think many people forget too quickly, and that yes, we should do a lot more to help the victims of natural disasters as it is the duty of everyone to help our fellow human-beings who are badly-off in India, El Salvador or wherever. Please can everyone who can afford to, donate a good amount of money to charities helping after natural disasters and famines etc.
Rohan, UK

We don't forget, our family lost their house in the first quake. We sent them money to rebuild it out of our own pocket, then our church took up a collection to send money to El Salvador as well. They're in our prayers everyday. God bless them. It's so, painful to think about. I'm glad I'm back in the US where I can make money to send to the family and church. As far as the media goes, we pay little attention to it.
Eismael & Romie Martinez, US

The news media have the attention span of a butterfly. Everyone knew about the first Salvadoran quake for a few days. Then India had one, and all the press switched their attention to India. People in El Salvador went on hurting, but no one noticed any more.
James Castro, USA

We should start to get a lot tougher with third world countries that neglect disaster preparedness

jon livesey, USA
We should start to get a lot tougher with third world countries that spend their money on military toys and neglect disaster preparedness. We should start to make it a requirement of international aid that third world governments put a certain percentage of their revenue into disaster preparedness, and into basic health and education delivery systems, and only then should they be allowed to buy arms and executive jets for the presidents and their cronies.
jon livesey, USA

There are simply not enough resources

Benj'min Mossop, UK
Charities, emergancy funds and what small state support that is offered alone cannot deal with all the disasters in the world today. There aren't too many disasters for us to cope with; there are simply not enough resources pooled and there is a lack of organisation to make sure the needed resources reach where they are needed. An organisation like the UN needs more power to take money from those with only wants and give it to those with needs. If the international community cannot and will not do this then we can say good bye to civilisation.
Benj'min Mossop, UK

Let's not underestimate how difficult these missions are

Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus
I think it is great how international aid always goes to disaster stricken areas. Even the great enemies Turkey and Greece ran to help each other when earthquakes struck their respective countries. Still, lets not underestimate how difficult these missions are. My admiration to the crews involved and please may all governments work together to make sure that such crews receive the best possible funding and equipment that is humanly possible.
Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus

The media does well in reporting natural disasters. It is our role as individuals to remember these incidents and to appreciate the quality of life we have. Giving our time in memory of the victims as well as donations is important.
Sarah Simmons, Hokkaido, Japan

At the time of the East Asia economic crisis, other countries were quick to offer help to avert a financial disaster, but when a natural disaster strikes a poor country, aid is often slow in coming.
jeff, u.s.a.

Lets stop talking and lets start doiing...

John, England
If every working person could donate £1 a month from their wages this could be put to good use for disasters that occur at home or abroad. Lets stop talking and lets start doing¿
John, England

Yes we do, absolutely: if we recounted all the disasters of 2000, we'd be shocked that they were so recent. Which is why I believe in regular donations to charities like Oxfam, rather than one-off lump sums, so that they can continue doing their work after the media has got side-lined by something Posh Spice said.
Wendy, UK

The main problem is that the International community knows that some of the help will not go to the people. The government have failed the people.
David Alfaro, El Salvador

The idea of organising a rapid, properly funded and effective international disaster relief force is probably beyond the comprehension of a "developed" world

Rodger Edwards, UK
20 years ago, we would not have known anything about most of the natural disasters around the world. The media age has changed all this - and a good thing too. It does people no harm at all to have their insular perceptions of the world around them challenged by distressing footage such as that from El Salvador. If the media can galvanise people into providing aid, then good for them.
The idea of organising a rapid, properly funded and effective international disaster relief force is probably beyond the comprehension of a "developed" world that is completely obsessed with the acquisition of material wealth. I would dearly love to be proved wrong....
Rodger Edwards, UK

Yes, unfortunately we do forget to quickly. Real situations like this that affect millions of people are pushed off the front page by 'celebrity splits' etc (you know who you are!). The devastation that El Salvador has suffered again, is far more interesting and news worthy than celebrity tittle tattle.
Marie, UK

Whenever there is any disaster in any country the international community is ready to rush aid to the affected country. I very much appreciated the generous gesture of Pakistan which was prompt enough to rush aid to Gujarat in India where there was an earthquake a few weeks ago. Man is full of compassion. It is our duty to help the suffering humanity. I have great regards for non-governmental organisations which work in different parts of the world to give hope to those who have lost hope in life. We need to see God in the faces of suffering human beings.
Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda/India

It's just as devastating for each individual, but the Indian earthquake needs far more world attention

Sally Gregg, UK
Any number of deaths and injuries as the result of an earthquake would be too many, and I can feel nothing but sympathy for the people of El Salvador. But the extent of their problem is small compared with the disaster in Gujerat. It's just as devastating for each individual, but the Indian earthquake needs far more world attention.
Sally Gregg, UK

Too many and each time we are told how bad each one is (and they are appalling for the people involved) - and how fast the media lose interest - but what are individuals to do? - You can only give so much to some many and there is a limit to the guilt and compassion one is supposed to feel each time.
Bob, UK

The spin-doctors of the rich and the powerful swing into action with great speed to beat the drums of war to maintain their hegemony over the rest of the world. But, when natural calamities like floods and quakes strike El Salvador or Mozambique most of us remain silent or walk the other way.
Mohansingh, India

Disasters like the earthquake that happened in El Salvador need to be kept in the spotlight, if international aid is needed. Look at India - two weeks after the quake in Western India, and the story is still in the news (BBC Lunchtime News). Why can't El Salvador receive the same coverage? Surely this would encourage people to send whatever they can to the area, if they are reminded that there are people who are still in need. On another point, how is America helping the El Salvador effort? This country is practically on Bush's doorstep.
Alex, Glasgow, Scotland

Making the developing world significantly richer would mean making us considerably poorer

Mark, Austria
The sad but true reality is that we (myself included) don't really give a damn what happens in the (not) developing world. Making the developing world significantly richer would mean making us considerably poorer and so our "armchair compassion" when confronted with pictures of destroyed cities or children dying of malnutrition is intense but short-lived.
Mark, Austria

Aid is something that needs to be dispensed as soon as possible if it is to have any effect. As westerners, we spend too long living in our own private Idaho, only open to the items that are placed before us in the news and taking them for granted - assuming they go away once the reporting stops. They don't; the after effects run deep and will always be remembered by those who are most affected.
Ed Vista, England

Instead of sending money and aid in the form of blankets and diggers to get people out, it would be more to the point if we offered aid such that these nations could sort out problems with less dependence on international goodwill. After all, nobody is obliged to donate anything.
John B, UK

If the western world cancelled third world debt surely this would help less fortunate countries

Sharon B, UK
I think it is difficult with so many disasters to keep on aiding foreign countries, especially as England has also suffered from major floods and rail disasters in the last year as well. Whilst helping others must be an important part of foreign policy, surely we must do our best to iron out our own problems first before attempting to save the world. If the western world cancelled third world debt surely this would help less fortunate countries. After all the debt has actually been long paid off and what is currently being paid is extortionate rates of interest.
Sharon B, UK

I vaguely remember some people being repeatedly flooded in this country, but since it's not on the news, I guess it's all been sorted out....
Clive Mitchell, UK

It's not a fact of the people forgetting - it's more of the media forgetting. As soon as something major happens, like the earthquake, then it makes the news for a couple days. Then as soon as the next big story comes along, they forget all about what has happened. The earthquake has been a major disaster for El Salvador, and I think credit should go to agencies like the Red Cross, who do their best to remind people of these awful, but unfortunately inevitable, events
James, UK

The reason why that the El Salvador's quake was forgotten about in January as the Indian earthquake happened within a week

Helen, UK
I suggest that the governments of the 20 or so richest countries to put in a pound (or their equivalent) for every 5 people living in their country. For example, the UK will contribute £12m as our population is under 60m. The money is put into a central bank. When disasters such as earthquakes happen, the money is already there. This will save lives as the time gap between the disaster and aid coming through will be shortened. £12m is not going to dent the government budget. If a year passes without disaster, then countries would not be expected to pay for the next year. The reason why that the El Salvador's quake was forgotten about in January as the Indian earthquake happened within a week and focus was put on the Indian families in the UK, who's families have lost lives and homes.
Helen, UK

We are constantly bombarded by the media with news of fresh disasters around the world. It is impossible for an individual to respond to all of them. I prefer to donate regularly to Oxfam which engages in all areas of the world where there is need rather than flit from headline to headline.
Eileen, UK

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Americas
Salvador aid crisis looms
15 Feb 01 | Americas
Quake areas 'near panic'
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