Thursday, September 08, 2005

Japanese response to Katrina, and media coverage

The Japanese offer of $0.5 million in aid to the USA following Katrina seems surprisingly small (eg Australia has offered $8 million, the UK has already sent $5 million-worth of emergency rations alone).

I get most of my news coverage from the BBC web site and radio. Over the past couple of weeks it's been pretty much wall-to-wall coverage, which is hardly surprising given the scale of the disaster. In Japan, however, it has hardly rated a mention. A search for "katrina" in the Japan Times yields about a dozen relevant hits (as of this posting date), of which most are either editorialising about the political impact, or talking about the effect on oil prices (leaving a mere 3 bona-fide disaster-related news stories, but none that really go into much detail). The UK's Guardian newspaper, on the other hand, throws up about 160 related articles, and the rest of the UK press is similar.

I asked a colleague at lunch whether they had heard much about it, and they said that yes, it had been on the Japanese news, but she did not seem to think it was that important a story. She was astonished when I described that a whole city had vanished and that the humanitarian and financial cost now looks likely to be worse than the Kobe earthquake.

The only explanation I can offer for this is that Japan gets plenty of typhoons itself, and indeed has one passing over right now. Typhoon Nabi has killed about 20 and temporarily displaced over 100,000. There are some typical pictures of floods and storm damage in this BBC news story on it. Also, parts of Tokyo were hit by a flash flood when over 100mm of rain fell in an hour. But that will pass, and things will get back to normal. Storms and floods are news, but not big news.

So, I don't think it's that the Japanese are stingy or's just that no-one has actually bothered to tell them, so there is no public pressure to do more.

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