What About Iceland?
April 23rd, 2010

Natural disasters are part of the cost of living on this planet.  We endure earthquakes, floods, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, tsunamis, and drought.  And volcanoes.  And when one of these disasters befalls us, or our fellow man, the 24-hour cable news channels go into overdrive.  They cover the loss of life and the construction damage.  They estimate the hit to the economy.  They evaluate the most urgent needs.  They wax philosophical about what will happen when the “emergency” label is lifted and “life as normal” tries to resume.  And they interview individual people affected to give us the “story behind the story.”

For the past week we’ve all been apprised daily of the damage caused by the Icelandic volcano (whose name I’m not going to type out because you can’t pronounce it either…).  Delayed flights.  Financial losses to airlines tallying in the billions.  Government bailouts of European airlines.  Stranded travelers.  Worthless travel insurance policies.  Britain-bound fruit and vegetable exports rotting on the ground in Africa and South America.  Packed hotels.  Price gauging.  And on, and on, and on.     

None of this struck me as unusual, and for good reason: it’s not.  These are all the things we talk about ad nauseum in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  But then I was sent this set of photos taken in Iceland over the course of the past week.  That’s when it hit me. 

No one is talking about Iceland.

We’re all upside-down about Europe and air travel and the economic damage caused by volcanic ash.  But no one is talking about the damage caused in the volcano’s own back yard.  In this New York Times article from April 15th the topic of flooding and evacuation in Iceland isn’t mentioned until the third paragraph, after which the article turns immediately back to commercial flight interruptions. 

The photos in the link above (which I highly encourage you to visit) are astounding.  Films of ash on cars and roadways.  Livestock covered in grey dust.  Farmers working to seal off barns from toxic ash so that their animals can breathe safely.  Ranchers casing their own properties decked out in goggles and breathing masks. 

This is serious stuff.  And all I’m hearing about on the news is how British Airways is scrambling to get passenger backlogs cleared.  I realize that Iceland is not a huge player on the international stage.  Its entire population is roughly 317,000.  Its land mass is about 2/3 the size of California.  As measured by GDP its economy is 874 times smaller than the United States’ and the EU’s.  (Am I the only one who finds it interesting that the US and the EU have nearly identical GDP?)  So I understand that the lion’s share of the attention would expectedly be focused on the bigger fish in the Atlantic pond.  But I still find it something-bordering-on-deplorable that no one can be bothered to report on Iceland itself. 

In the aftermath of a natural disaster the victimized community itself – the community whose roads and animals are blanketed in ash – should get top billing, not the ingrate neighbors who have been logistically and financially inconvenienced by said disaster.  But that’s not the way it’s panning out this time; at least not in the media outlets that reach me. 

I recognize that the reality of the situation is that Europe is a bigger deal than Iceland.  I realize that drama sells.  And I understand that in this case this volcano caused more drama in Europe than in Iceland.  But I’m disappointed that the humanity of our news organizations stopped short of telling Iceland’s story.  This country has been gripped by a volcano’s grasp twice in the last month, with another eruption expected soon.  Perhaps with the next round of molten lava someone will have something to say about the local effects, rather than just the ripple effects felt by airline execs and vacationers abroad.

7 Responses to “What About Iceland?”

  1. Anne Says:

    Yeah, it’s strange how concerned we are about how it’s inconveniencing US. I actually work with a woman who’s Icelandic, and if it makes you feel any better…nobody in Iceland is getting hurt. Mostly farms around there, she said, who’ve had plenty of time to clear out. She said it was funny–after a few days of seeing American news coverage, she went to an Icelandic paper online and read it…and the volcano story was a minor blip somewhere inside the paper. That may have changed now, but anyway…I do think it’s fascinating how much we care when it affects our situation.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    You know, I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right! We’re hearing very little about Iceland. Odd, isn’t it?

    Hubs and I were actually going to visit Iceland this summer but our plans changed. I’m intrigued about the place.

  3. john cave osborne Says:

    i’ve been a horrible blog reader of late, wrapped up in my own blog, book, small biz, and family. (toddler triplets? killing me.)

    so i am so excited to spend two whole hours doing nothing more than visiting old cyber buddies. your effort here? it hit me right between the eyes.

    what is it about mother nature that brings out the very best AND very worst of human nature?

  4. Gale Says:

    John – Thanks for stopping by. I absolutely understand how life gets in the way of wasting time cruising blogs and waxing philosophical on other people’s musings. No worries. I’ve not been the best blog reader of late myself. Will be sure to stop by your place soon as well! Take care.

  5. MaryGene Says:

    Those photographs are incredible!! The lightening in the ash cloud! WOW! Definitely a portrait of nature’s beauty and power, but I’m sure it’s incredibly inconvenient and scary for the farmers and everyone getting smothered in ash.

  6. Gale Says:

    MaryGene – Welcome to TDT, and thanks for commenting. I was really amazed by the photos as well. I was encouraged by Anne’s comment indicating that in fact Iceland hasn’t been too devastated by the effects. Nevertheless, that much ash is overwhelming to think about, much less live with.

  7. Jane Says:

    My husband and I were just saying this last night – were you eavesdropping? ;) Because of the “warnings” I do hope people were able to evacuate and save what they could. What a re-building time Iceland is in for!