Friday, March 11, 2011

Disaster Prevention and Relief

I am going to assume that you have heard of the earthquake that hit Japan recently.

We live in a universe that is entirely indifferent to our survival and well-being as individuals, as communities, and even as a species, surrounded by massively powerful forces.

Our best hope in protecting ourselves is to understand the world around us in ways that allow us to predict, and thus to avoid, these disasters. And when those disasters strike anyway, to depend on each other for mutual support.

When it comes to giving aid, reason should prevail here as well. Irrational, careless charity may make the giver feel good with false beliefs that they have helped, but people who truly care about others will want to make sure to make reason-based contributions to disaster relief.

Disaster relief organizations state that the best help that one can provide is to provide cash. Let the professionals determine what they physically need and where they need it.

At times like these, many people make contributions that are not only worthless but counter-productive. One such form of aid is for people to rush to the area where the disaster has struck so that they can volunteer their labor. Once they arrive, they end up becomming a part of the problem. They are just one more mouth to feed and one more body to take care of.

People also tend to make entirely worthless contributions of food and clothing. The labor involved in evaluating, sorting, crating, shipping, and distributing these types of contributions can almost certainly be better spent elsewhere. Cash allows the organizations to purchase and ship food, blankets, shelter, medicines, and qualified people in bulk - much more efficiently.

Of course, those donations can be made useful because, in spite of the disaster in Japan, you will almost certainly find people in your community in need of that kind of help. And there is no need to think that the only help worth providing is help given to Japan.

That is another burden that charities suffer at times like this. Local charities see their sources of income and support dry up as people shift their contributions in ways that focus on the disaster. So, keep that in mind when making a contribution.

Then there are those for whom their contributions are entirely self-serving; who have no interest in actually helping people as can be seen through their actions. People donate high-healed shoes and fine clothes, not because they have any interest in helping others, but because it makes a nice tax deduction.

If people are making irrational contributions, it really does no good to say, "At least their heart is in the right place," and let it pass. If their heart really is in the right place, then they care not to make irrational and senseless contributions. If they are offended by the news that their contributions are irrational and senseless, then their heart is not in the right place. They are seeking only the personal pleasure that comes from thinking that they have helped, they are not seeking to help. That is not a sentiment that deserves our respect or consideration.


Anonymous said...

I would point out that a lot of charities resell the clothing and the other "useless" items more locally and then send the money to the areas they're actually focusing on.

So high heeled shoes and a decorative crystal vase might actually still be helpful.

Furthermore, while a disaster area like the earthquake in Japan has no use for things like prom dresses or books, doesn't mean other areas don't. Every year I read about a local charity looking for gently used prom dresses that they, in turn, give to low income students wishing to attend their school prom. Its not a disaster relief situation but its still a worth while cause if you have a dress that you'll never wear again. They also take wedding dresses to give to low income brides.

J. W. Gray said...

What is the best way to help Japan right now?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you are able to edit blog posts but if you are, I believe your computer may have switched "high-heeled shoes" for "high-healed". A very minor thing but I was confused for a second:)