Here is the scene at the looting of a warehouse near Tacloban. Those are bags of rice being carried away. (Associated Press photograph by Aaron Favila.)
Major media have been quick to suggest a rapid descent into anarchy. A report in today’s (November 14) Los Angeles Times begins, “As concerns grew about rampant looting and lawlessness, Philippine security forces sent reinforcements and imposed a nighttime curfew in Tacloban…”
USA Today suggests that security concerns have discouraged some relief efforts. The most recent OCHA report includes, “Security concerns persist, including harassment and mobbing of people during relief transport and distribution.”
There have also been less prominent reports of something less starkly Hobbesian. According to NBC News, “Some eight soldiers in the back of a military truck appeared to ignore residents clambering out of the rubble carrying canned food, bags of rice and bottles of water. And in a nearby checkpoint, soldiers waved through residents carrying bags of rice.”
I am not there. I have only been to the Philippines once, years ago. I understand that crime has been an increasing problem and there are pockets of armed insurgency. I don’t pretend to be sure of the situation on the ground.
But I am certain there is a general expectation of panic and mass violence in the aftermath of disaster. It is a recurrent theme. It is usually over-reported. After-action analysis almost always finds an actual decline in violent crime following a major disaster. While we look for the bad we often fail to notice the good.
A few years ago Rebecca Solnit examined the aftermath of several catastrophic events and wrote the book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise is Disasters. She mostly found evidence of altruism, resourcefulness, and courage.
In the picture at the top, what do you see? Opportunism? Chaos? Greed? Collaboration? Civil collapse? Personal initiative? Crime? Adaptation?