Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Just to be contrary, here are a few reasons not to donate to the international relief effort for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami:

  • The most significant damage from this tsunami has already been done. Money donated today would be better spent on establishing an early warning system to reduce the number of deaths next time.

  • Yes, the survivors endured a catastrophe that took tens of thousands of lives in one blow. But that doesn't make them any worthier of help than the thousands around the world who themselves die every day of easily preventable causes. Their misfortunes are no less tragic just because they are suffered at a steady rate over the course of many years.

  • As a result of the publicity, aid is already pouring into the affected areas. Many others in need elsewhere have gotten no such massive response.

  • The victims were disproportionately on the shore (including the beach) at the time of the tsunami. That likely makes them relatively affluent by the standards of their country.

  • India, Indonesia, and Thailand are considered third-world, but they are actually rather large, prosperous countries--5th, 16th and 22nd in the world by GDP, respectively. How wealthy does a country have to be before the rest of the world stops mounting international aid efforts to help them? Does aid pour in from the rest of the world every time a natural disaster strikes, say, a European country?

  • Sri Lanka really is a pretty poor country. But a country that pulls something like this....

  • North America has bigger problems to worry about.

  • Note that none of these reasons absolves anyone of the moral obligation to give generously to charities that help people in desperate need. (And, the above curmudgeonliness notwithstanding, there is no doubt plenty of desperate need among the tsunami's survivors.) However, if this recent appalling disaster triggers an urge to give, it might be worth remembering that the impulse can also be redirected to the cause of one's choice, with undiminished--and possibly even improved--positive consequences.

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