Millions and millions of words have been cast into the void on this subject already, so I'll try to keep this short:
When I went to the gym for a swim last night, there was a poster propped up on the main reception desk. The poster had a picture of a little girl and was an appeal for people to call Crimestoppers with any information that they might have on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann whilst on holiday with her family in Portugal.
I saw the same poster today in the gents toilet of a service station just outside Oxford. I keep stumbling across comments on various blogs imploring people to call Crimestoppers with any information they might have. Although I haven't yet received one (perhaps it's in my spam folder), I hear that millions of emails have been passed around asking the same thing. The McCann's website is up and running (85,000 support messages so far and £294, 758.65 in donations and counting). And you can upload your holiday snaps here just in case they provide any clues.
I feel for the McCann's, of course I do. I really hope that their little girl is found alive and well and is returned to her family as soon as possible.
I understand that all of this publicity probably increases the chances that a key piece of information will find its way to the police... but why Madeleine? Why this case? Why is all this attention and compassion being focused on this one missing person? Are there no other missing people in the world? Are there no other families out there equally devastated by a loss like this? If she isn't found and the posters start to come down, does she remain any less lost? Is it any less of a tragedy for her parents?
Also in the news today was a desperate appeal for funds from the Disasters Emergency Committee for the crisis hit Darfur region of the Sudan and surrounding areas.
The BBC have more details, but 200,000 people have died in Darfur since the rebellion in 2003. Pro-government militias have been accused of mass killings, rape and looting. Two-thirds of the population of Darfur are utterly dependent upon aid, and the rainy season is looming, threatening to bring further deaths through disease and malnutrition.
As the DEC say:
"More than 4.5 million people have been affected by conflict in the region and the looming rainy season has the potential to cause huge loss of life. With malnutrition levels already rising, we need to bolster life-saving food and medicine stocks before the downpours hit."
Comparisons are odious, but in this case I find them irresistible.
The reward for information leading to the return of Madeleine McCann to her family stands at something like £2.5m. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been donated by ordinary members of the public to her appeal.
That's a lot of money.
Meanwhile, in Darfur,
£25 could buy plastic sheeting to shelter an entire family.
£80 could feed five critically malnourished children for a month.
£200 could buy a tap stand to provide one and a half thousand people with water – every day.
How can we not have enough compassion to think about the thousands of people dying in Africa? Or Iraq? Or anywhere else in the world?
I'm not a parent, it's true. Perhaps if I had a child of my own I would see things more clearly. But then again, I'm not black either. Or African. A human life is still worth the same everywhere, right? Just how much is your compassion worth? A couple of quid for Maddie and a fiver for Darfur?
To donate to the Darfur and Chad Crisis Appeal call 0870 60 60 900 or visit www.dec.org.uk.
(Incidentally, the best thing I have read on the media reaction to this subject is here.)