Monday, March 21, 2011

Is There a Moral Difference Between the Needs of Victims in Japan and Haiti?

Looking at the Red Cross signs for donations to help the victims of the earthquake/tsunami/potential nuclear meltdown in Japan, raises questions about the moral imperative to help. When the earthquake struck Haiti, there were horrible conditions as well. But a major difference was that it was in one of the world's poorest countries with a barely functioning government who had little in the way of resources or expertise to deal with the problems of the suffering population. In Japan, on the other hand, you have one of the world's wealthiest countries with a track record of dealing very expeditiously with disasters in a way that stands as a model to the rest of the world. This is meant in no way to downplay the very real suffering of the Japanese people, but only to draw a contrast between the contexts.

Does that context come with moral import in that if the aid is not absolutely necessary, do you still have a responsibility/the same responsibility to help? Does human suffering itself generate the need to act to help alleviate it? Is our individual obligation altered at all by considerations of the means, resources, and expertise of the sufferer or does the suffering itself trigger our obligation to help?