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World Tragedies Fail to Keep Attention of the West

Those of us north of the equator and in the western hemisphere tend to “chase the ambulance” after a disaster. But we soon switch our attention as the media draw us elsewhere.

On Jan. 18, Mt. Nyiragongo—on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda—exploded.

This volcanic disaster took place in one of the poorest and most densely populated areas in Africa. The greater part of the city of Goma was destroyed, displacing of an estimated 500,000 people to the town of Gisenyi in Rwanda and towards Bukavu in the DRC.

Some people returned to Goma, but most went to see what remained of their homes. Sadly, some went to loot. One of the two hospitals in the town was the Baptist Virunga hospital, and that was almost totally destroyed. Most of the buildings of the Baptist Community of Central Africa, based in Goma, were also destroyed.

While the media in many parts of the world focused on the tragedy for some time, it received little publicity in the United States. The Washington Post, for example, never gave it higher priority than page 20, and coverage of the tragedy soon disappeared altogether. In such disasters, a list of agencies is made available to the press, showing those working in the area and collecting funds. Few newspapers publicized this list.

Even in our Baptist media, the disaster seemed to raise little concern. The two major Baptist news organizations did not cover it, and few state papers even mentioned it, let alone publicized our Baptist response.

Would the priority have been the same if such a disaster had taken place in North America, Europe or even Afghanistan?

Baptist World Aid (BWAid) immediately sent $40,000 to three Baptist groups—two Rwandan and one Congolese—who were feeding and caring for those seeking shelter on Baptist property.

Subsequently, these and other Baptist groups have formed a crisis committee to serve those still suffering. Already, we see the response covering a number of areas.

  • The immediate relief of many thousands will be a joint effort between the major United Nations agencies and international and local organizations.
  • The long-term rehabilitation of 500,000 people will involve building new homes, creating jobs, and self-sufficiency.
  • The rebuilding of the infrastructure of the Baptist Community of Central Africa and other Baptist communities, and the physical rebuilding of many properties is under discussion. This will include the Virunga hospital.

So, how can people help? Visit www.bwanet.org/bwaid and send a donation.

Paul Montacute has been director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, since 1990.

NOTE: My last piece for EthicsDaily.com was published just a few days after the gigantic eruption of Mt. Nyiragongo on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda on Jan. 17. EthicsDaily.com was on the ball, immediately putting Baptist World Aid’s Jan. 18 appeal online.

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