Two of the most destructive hurricanes in our country’s history just finished ravishing the coastline of our southern seaboard, and it made for great TV.  

Both hurricanes had all the elements of the perfect disaster story: terrifying predictions including reporters in raincoats struggling to stand in the wind, the ever-present satellite image of a multicolored storm spiraling toward the homeland. A terrifying aftermath full of flooding with families fleeing their homes and, finally, the comforting videos that somehow restore our faith in humanity as we watch first responders and average citizens rescuing people from a disaster we’ve been watching nonstop, spurring ourselves into some form of action, most likely through donations and charity.

That is, until our attention spans run out.

Those distinct features that capitalize on our desire to watch such tragedies and be moved into action to help are the same ones that divert our attention elsewhere.

North Korea, Trump’s TwitterMyanmar genocide, Russian investigationNeo-NazisDACA are all ready to recapture our attention. Because no matter how horrifying the disasters in Texas and Florida were, no matter how much we are moved to charity and compassion — we and the media will move on and forget.

And when we move on, when our attention subsides, when the dramatic black-and-white images of mothers trudging through water carrying their children are no longer the center of our attention — that’s when we forget, and the people who actually needed our help the most never receive it.

The individuals who were fortunate to have private flood insurance will rebuild, move back in and try to resume a life after total disaster, but only 42 percent of homes in coastal Florida are covered under such insurance, and in Texas even fewer homes are insured. In Harris County, which includes Houston — one of the hardest cities hit by the hurricane — only 15 percent of homes.

So as the TV networks pack up their news cameras and we resume our Facebook discussions on the benefit of hearing out Nazis, the hurricane victims who are uninsured are left to our federal government and the assistance they receive already looks dire. The little assistance they will receive are through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, a program that has been inundated since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — and currently owes the U.S. Treasury some $23 billion — will now have to extend its credit to continue financing the rebuilding after Harvey and Irma.

And this is where the cynicism returns. Because such an endeavor by FEMA and the Flood Insurance program will be unable to keep up with the sheer magnitude of damage done to Florida and Texas — disasters requiring hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the damages.

This is where the low-income neighborhoods disappear, where families flee their homes to never return and, most importantly, where new prime real estate opens up.

Cue “disaster capitalism,” what writer Naomi Klein’s describes as corporations and governments utilizing disasters to “transform” regions and gain financially. Hurricane Katrina was a prime example of this, and as described in Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine,” the shock induced by the hurricane allowed the government and corporations to exploit the disaster — paving over poor neighborhoods with more profitable housing and commercial developments.

And now, after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the poorest people affected by these disasters, the ones hit the hardest, will be subject to a similar campaign. This is their punishment for not buying a coverage policy that covers actual flood costs.

It will occur because we’ll move on. And I can already hear the “tough love” criticisms of those who are truly passionate about government assistance:

“Let FEMA deal with them, let the grossly over-budgeted bureaucratic Flood Insurance Program figure out what to do with those poor people who were either too dumb or not working hard enough to buy flood insurance on their homes.”

There is something to be said about the speed in which we handle these crises from afar. How we rapidly horrify and scare ourselves, engage on an emotional and charitable level and then so instantly move on and forget.

Something like this requires months and years of rebuilding. It requires hundreds of billions of dollars. It requires an understanding that governments, and only governments, are capable of handling such massive emergencies and cleanup efforts.

Something like this requires us. We need to engage and participate, not just through a constant stream of charitable donations to specific organizations, but an engagement on a level that requires journalism to respond. For us to make sure those poor people who lost their homes find a way to rebuild. To pressure our government to secure funding for these people, before we build that big, beautiful wall on the Mexican border. To slow down from the clickbait disaster-prone-ridden news that degrades our ability to understand issues and work toward solutions.

Michael Mordarski can be reached at mmordars@umich.edu.

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