yesterday echidne wondered whether we would ever get a real bodycount from the aftermath of hurricane katrina.
years ago, i read out of america: a black man confronts africa by keith richburg. while i had some serious problems with the book (which i don't want to get into here) one of the points richburg makes is that in the third world, "they don't count the bodies" in wars and natural disasters. as a reporter in africa in the 1990s he was struck by how reports of violence in the war in bosnia were accompanied by statements like "124 people were killed in the latest mortar attack" whereas reports about subsahara africa would say "approximately 100 people were killed" or sometimes the slaughter would be reported without even an attempt to put it in terms of numbers. at one point, richburg went to south africa, turned on the radio and heard a news report which gave an exact figure for the number of dead. he though to himself "hey, they count the bodies here." in the end "counting the bodies" almost becomes a shorthand for the difference between the developed and undeveloped world.
at least that's what stuck with me years after i read the book. i think he was exaggerating a bit. i have an old newspaper i brought back from uganda in 1995. skimming the news reports, you can clearly see body counts. but when there is a total breakdown of society and chaos really reigns, it gets to a point where you simply can't count the bodies anymore. richburg seemed to be attributed the non-counting of bodies to indifference to human suffering, i think it has more to do with the inability to. but that too is a hallmark of the third world. things break down there, all the time. you're never aware of all of the failsafes and backups that surround us in the developed world until you go someplace that doesn't have them.
in the past week, there have been a lot of comparisons between the situation along the gulf coast and the third world. i wonder whether in the end they will count the bodies.