Assisting during a crisis

Shortly after midnight Eastern Standard Time on March 11, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, a magnitude of 9.0, triggered a devastating tsunami that destroyed entire cities on Japan’s eastern coast.

Among the long list of destruction and death is an emerging nuclear crisis. The country lost more than 18,000 people, and many more are missing. According to the Washington Post, the costs of repairs are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions.

Totals from the Center on Philanthropy show that Americans have only given $66 million to a variety of charities for Japan in the initial week of the earthquake and tsunami hit. If we compare that to the $296 million donated by Americans to Haiti in the first week following the earthquake last year, we can see a considerable difference.

One may say that Japan is a “rich” country, whereas Haiti is not. That may be true, but even wealthy countries need help during a crisis. According to the GAO, the United States received more than $126 million in foreign aid for Hurricane Katrina.

If a neighbor’s property is on fire, we do not ask ourselves if we should lend them a hose. We don’t do a credit check, nor do we ask if they can pay us back for the water they use. We can worry about the repayment details after the crisis has passed. Japan is the world’s third largest economy and the impact on global growth is significant if the country falls into a deep recession. A recession over there will have ripple effects around the globe.

I have learned something from this disaster in Japan. The earthquake, tsunami and radiation leaks have not caused society to disintegrate but to be bound together more tightly than ever. The selflessness and discipline in Japan are illustrated by the workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They risk dangerous doses of radiation daily as they struggle to prevent a complete meltdown that would endanger their fellow citizens. This should bring out the best emotions we can have. This should also give us a profound sense of respect for the things in the world that we cannot control.

The moral question we should ask ourselves is this: Should Americans send money to a place that is far wealthier than most counties on this planet? The answer is yes. Despite the lack of inattention our pocketbooks have reportedly given, we should reach out and write a check to one of the many relief organization to help our fellow human beings.

I have always had an appreciation for the American spirit of generosity that has helped so many people and countries recover from adversity. I have also never forgotten that it is always easy to ask for money, but it is much more difficult to see where that money should be spent first.