Since Saturday, I've been closely watching and listening to news stories coming out of the Philippines. The city of Manila - home to around 15 million people - was struck by Tropical Storm Ketsana, which dumped double the rainfall of Hurricane Katrina on the city in a few hours. Manila is always prone to flooding. Periodic typhoons, low-lying land reclaimed from Manila Bay, faulty and inadequate drainage infrastructure, all make for floods during the rainy season. But the extent of this flood is unprecedented.
My family members in the Philippines are safe. My son is in the south of the country, far from the devastation. The ground floor of my ex-husband's house was flooded, but they had time to move furniture and books to a higher part of the house and the clean-up is under way.
But the damage to Manila is almost beyond comprehension. There are 250 known deaths, and around 450,000 people have been displaced. 380,000 people are currently accommodated in makeshift shelters. This is hard to imagine. It's the equivalent of one-seventh of the population of Sydney being displaced. It's difficult to conceptualise how Sydney would deal with disaster on such a scale, let alone a country as poor as the Philippines, and with such unreliable infrastructure.
Much has been written in many contexts of how and why particular events in the world are reported. The Philippines doesn't figure largely in Australia's world view or its news coverage, and while it is unedifying to compare the horror of disasters, I do wish there had been more coverage and some public expressions of concern and support for the Philippines at this time. Maybe I've missed them.
One outcome of the relative lack of news coverage has been the difficulty in finding ways to donate to help with the relief efforts that will be so vital to prevent the spread of disease and to assuage the hunger and suffering of so many people. However, as of yesterday, the Australian Red Cross is accepting donations for the Ketsana Relief Appeal
Here's a link for some news coverage, personal stories and photos.