jeudi, janvier 20, 2005

Tsunami Tstingyness - Why the Disaster Compels Me to Fight Hunger

The other night, I said to Mrs. Duf (she is more frugal than most) that I don’t think we should donate to a Tsunami relief fund. I felt like a big jerk for saying it, but I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I just don’t know that any contribution from our household would have much value beyond the symbolic. I think our charitable dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Here’s my reasoning, please tell me if I’ve reached the wrong conclusion.

First, by way of introduction, our family is blessed, there’s no doubt about it, but we are far from wealthy.

Second, we are a charitable people, and we support non-profits, our public radio station, charitable organizations, our church, every friend who does the three day walk for breast cancer research, the March of Dimes, the United Way, and (from time to time) individuals in need.

Third, if we were to donate to Tsunami relief, and let’s say we dug really deeply, we might be able to donate $500 (in theory we could do more than that, but $500 would be near the upper limits of any gift we would make – and, in reality, such a gift would likely be significantly less).

Last, any gift we made would compel us to reconsider gifts that we traditionally make. I figured it up, and we currently donate about 3% of our income to charity. In some years (when our income was smaller and we donated the old Honda), we donated a much as 8%.

The tsunami disaster is one of the more horrific specific natural events that has happened in my life time. I’m barely able to imagine the scope of it. The current death toll is near 180,000 and expected to reach 200,000 before all is said and done. That’s more than half the city of St. Paul. And even putting the disaster in those terms, it still makes little sense. In a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that the disaster compelled me to think about God and providence. So much power. So much devastation. In the way that all awesome things conjure up the majestic and all majestic things call to mind the divine, thinking about the tsunami makes me think about God.

I’ve read a lot about it too. One of my favorite articles put the disaster in a different perspective. It appeared in the January 17th issue of the New Yorker (which I’ve unilaterally decided is the best magazine of all time), and it started like this:

Nearly four million men, women and children have died as a consequence of the Congo civil war. Seventy thousand have perished in the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. In the year just ended, scores of thousands died in wars and massacres elsewhere in Africa, in Asia, in the archipelagoes of the Pacific, and, of course, in Iraq. Less dramatically, but just as lethally, two million people died of malaria around the world, and another million and a half of diarrhea. Five million children died of hunger. Three million people died of AIDS, mostly in Africa. The suffering of these untimely and terrible deaths – whether inflicted by deliberate violence, the result of human agency, or by avoidable or treatable malady, the result of human neglect – is multiplied by heartbroken parents and spouses, numbed and abandoned children, and, often, ruined survivors vulnerable to disease and predation and dependent, if they are lucky, on the spotty kindness of strangers.

So, as these things are measured (crudely). It seems better to a survivor in the regions where the tsunami played its havoc than it is to be tucked away somewhere quietly wondering if you will get enough food, or if that drink of water you just took will give you a lethal dose of diarrhea. Because, if you are in the path of the tsunami, you have something that many other victims lack and desperately need: you have attention.

Rock stars, professional athletes, actors and actresses. Countries. Aid organizations. Special concerts. Air time. Lots and lots of air time. I heard that Sandra Bullock gave a million dollars. While Randy Moss was busy asking the world “what’s ten grand to me?” NBA players were lining up for praise because they donated a $1,000 per point or per rebound.

Germany has promised $674 million.

The UK has currently pledged $100 million and will go to the several hundred millions soon.

The U.S. has pledged $350 million (but apparently, George Bush plans to use money from the disaster and famine assistance program to provide aid for the disaster (their current budget for 2005 is $384 million). Apparently Mr. Bush has been meeting with senior Republicans to try to cover the costs of the disaster without undermining his other priorities. Nice. Rob from the poor to pay the ravaged while the rich burn money to light Cuban cigars. Very nice indeed.).

And I’m told that Germany, Australia and Japan are giving more than us in absolute terms and several more countries are giving more than us per capita.

All told, the total amount currently pledged (by countries) to support the tsunami victims is 3 billion dollars. And that doesn’t even count the $1,000,000 Sandra Bullock is kicking in or the $30,000 or so that Carmelo “Stop Snitchin’” Anthony will peel off.

But let’s assume that the Duf family gives the most that it can ($500) and that the nations give all that they’ve pledged ($3,000,000,000). Our stretched donation amounts to throwing a bucket of water into the ocean. It’s not even one percent of one percent of one percent times 3.

I want to be careful. The tragedy is unimaginable. The aid is heroic and wonderful. It’s just that, in the face of it all, I feel all the more compelled to support the others who are suffering, particularly in light of the plans to divert aid from our existing disaster and famine budget (values voters of the world rejoice! Oh well, you can't help the hungry and pay favors to Wall Street at the same time!). Maybe now, dollars to fight famine and AIDS and water-borne infectious diseases will go further (and yes, cholera is a big threat to survivors in the tsunami's path of destruction). But friend, aid elsewhere could be a part of the tsunami's legacy - in the way that all natural disasters call forth the best of human nature.

Anyway, weigh I off track in my thinking?