Prevention vs. Relief

by Tamara A.

Ok, I’m starting this with a confession.  I picked up a section from the Denver Post at my apartment yesterday to read a bit.  I found the “Perspective” section, which I love, and read a truly thought-provoking article on humans’ abilities to stop natural disasters or at least minimizing the effect that they are having on communities.  I immediately thought that it was something that I would love to address via the blog.  Then I noticed a tiny detail in the corner of the paper.  It said Sunday…May 15th.  So I just want to apologize for my tardiness in reading and writing about this article.  However, I can’t deny that it is a frequent occurrence in our place, to have magazines and papers and then allow them to sit for a few days before reading them.  I guess I’m always on a small delay with my “current” event knowledge.

With that being said, let me dive right in.  Nearly the whole section was dedicated to one question: Can we stop world disasters?  This is something that I have thought about over and over.  Each time I hear about another earthquake, tsunami, or tornado ripping through a town, leaving overwhelming damages for the community to try to repair in some way, I wonder if there was something that we, as humans, could have done to lessen the impact.  But do we stand a chance against the furies of Mother Nature?  She is a tricky lady with a lot of crazy twists up her sleeve.  Are we supposed to try and fight her or just be there to pick up the pieces when she is done? 

In the column “We wait for death and destruction, instead of preventing it”, Peter Singer challenges the general population’s action in response to disaster prevention versus that in response to disaster relief.  He points out that “people are willing to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to help people after a disaster—even after a disaster in a wealthy country like Japan—but are unwilling to invest anything like the same amount to save lives before a predictable disaster strikes.”  When I stopped to think about this statement and my own actions and reactions towards disasters and willingness to actually donate, this seems fairly accurate…although I don’t like to admit that.  Hearing about the crazy paths of storms, hurricanes, etc. and the physical harm that it forces on communities is gut-wrenching.  It is the stories of these people that pull at my heartstrings…and my wallet.  However, with disaster prevention, it takes a different kind of perspective to find the motivation to step up and help.  As Singer puts it, “this is a situation in which we must stretch our imagination, to understand and be motivated by the good that we are doing.  Unfortunately, not everyone can do that.”

I keep thinking about the major earthquakes that have happened in the past couple of years, more specifically the ones in Haiti and Japan.  Think of the difference in the impact that they had on these countries.  The Haitian and Japanese death tolls following the earthquakes were roughly a quarter million and 20,000 people, respectively.  That is a crazy difference, especially with the latter being the stronger of the two.  While there are a lot of other conditions that should be taken in to account, there was a definite difference in the preparedness of the country as far as building structure, warning, and prevention tactics in place.  Think of the amount of lives that could have been spared had the Haitian people been provided with stronger buildings or any prevention methods. 

I’m not saying that it is easy to always be looking at the “what if” scenarios in the future.  Especially when it comes to donating money, this is difficult.  What if we can help build safer, stronger buildings to save lives?  What if we can help prevent a child from becoming an orphan?  But on the other hand, what if these prevention projects don’t lessen the impact?  What if Mother Nature is hell bent on creating destruction even with our efforts to lessen her impact?  “What if” is difficult to work with.

In the end, I do believe that it would be amazing if we, as a global community, could have enough foresight to better equip these populations for oncoming catastrophes, especially the poorer countries that don’t have the financial opportunities to do it all themselves.   I don’t want to downplay the good that is being done but millions of people through their donations to great organizations doing relief work.  It is extremely important and generous.  But let’s do a little more.  Let’s think about the pain that can be avoided instead of merely reacting to the pain that is already caused.


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