News organizations throughout the U.S. are giving extensive coverage to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Which is interesting for me, since now is the first time that I’ve seen and heard a lot of the stories of the destruction that the hurricane caused. When Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005, I was traveling in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. (Side note: Traveling from the U.S. to Spain involved a layover in Miami; our flight to Madrid left Miami less than a day before Katrina arrived there.) So instead of nonstop coverage on three 24-hour news stations, I only got bits and pieces of the story — an online article over a low-bandwidth satellite Internet connection here, an American television interview dubbed into Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, or French there. Not nearly enough to convey the overall magnitude of the tragedy or the effects on individual lives. So in a lot of ways, the current retrospective is an introduction for me since I didn’t have access to the blanket news coverage that helped Stateside folks communally experience what happened while it was happening.
Which I think is, to a large extent, the same experience that Americans are having with the current flooding in Pakistan. Of course, there are periodic updates on the tragedy there on television, online, and in print. But obviously, there isn’t the same level of coverage here in the U.S. that there was of Katrina. So given the same lack of continuous, visceral news coverage in Pakistan that I had with Katrina, I wonder to what extent folks will remember that the individual stories and grand mosaic of destruction and loss brought into their living rooms five years ago have new counterparts today.
In 1995, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and several others protesting the activities of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria and the effects of those activities on the Ogoni people were executed by the former Nigerian government. Allegations persisted for years afterward that the oil company was complicit in the killings, and ultimately a lawsuit was filed against Shell in federal court in New York on behalf of the families of the activists. Recently, Shell agreed to settle the suit, with no admission of wrongdoing, for US$15.5 million. Part of the settlement will go to the activists’ families, and part will fund social programs for the region’s inhabitants. The case was seen as a bellwether for other companies whose practices in foreign countries may be affecting indigenous peoples.
Note: One of the earliest bits of content on this site was a local copy of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final statement to the military tribunal that executed him.
With the current economic downturn, it’s currently hard to find work in many parts of the world. But according to a New York-based HR firm, there are places in the world where it’s just hard to work due to things like crime, political unrest, lack of infrastructure, or climate. But the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe were specifically excluded from the list, and most of the cities listed are in Africa and central and southern Asia. That begs the question of how different the list might look if people from non-Western viewpoints had compiled it.