When major disaster strikes, like it did in Japan on March 11, the world’s media often scramble to cover the unfolding drama. Too often, however, the reporting they do is shallow and the reporters leave too quickly in order to cover something else. They report the obvious but don’t go deep enough—or stay long enough—to get into the human dimensions of the ongoing relief and recovery effort.
One reason we miss the real story in a disaster is that some of the most moving elements of a disaster relief story aren’t found at the scene of major-league operations conducted by groups like the United Nations or International Red Cross. If you want to see the most poignant struggles people are facing, you have to find the people who are falling between the cracks of the large-scale operation.
It is, of course, impossible for massive relief operations to touch every person in need. People inevitably fall between the cracks. As compelling a story as the massive operation makes, however, the greatest needs usually are found elsewhere.
Take, for example, the month-old effort in Japan to help survivors recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese government is doing an amazing job, especially considering they also are wrestling with the extremely serious danger of nuclear disaster. But no matter how many soldiers you mobilize to distribute food and water, the logistics of such an operation make it impossible to help everyone. Such an initiative rightly focuses on places where people gather in large groups, like shelters, where conditions often are bad enough. In northeast Japan, however, thousands of people are living in their cars or in their damaged homes. Those people are easily missed—and their struggle is even worse.
That’s one reason I feel so strongly about the work of smaller relief organizations, like Baptist Global Response. (Full disclosure: I do communications work for BGR.) A group like BGR not only has the ability to focus every dollar of donations on people in need—because their overhead is met through other channels—but they also have the ability to get down to the grass-roots level and find the individuals, families, and small groups being missed by the large-scale relief effort.