In the early hours of March 11th, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck northern Japan, and a massive tsunami followed. More than 5,000 people are dead and almost 10,000 are missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, and those living near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station have been told to evacuate – while a small crew of brave workers remains nearby to try and avert catastrophic meltdown.
Here in the US, our budget debates highlight differing opinions about how much we want our government to do for us. The stories we tell ourselves make a virtue of self-sufficiency, and we highlight those who work their way out of poverty into fortune. While hard work and persistence are laudable qualities, though, they alone won’t get us through earthquakes, hurricanes, or wildfires.
Disasters remind us that there’s only so much we can do on our own. The homes and businesses we invest in so proudly can’t survive tsunamis or unscathed. A full checking account isn’t much good if there’s no food or clean water for miles around and the roads are impassable. When disaster strikes, we must rely on others for help.
Humans form societies because we benefit from doing so. Together we build cities and towns – and when they’re damaged, we rebuild them. Whether we work through governments, volunteer organizations, or other institutions, we do these things together, because we can’t do them on our own.
At the moment, the international community is thinking of how we can help Japan. If you want to make a donation, I recommend giving non-restricted gifts to Medecins Sans Frotieres or Save the Children, which have teams on the ground in Japan and can also channel funds to other worthwhile projects (like Haiti, which still hasn’t recovered from its disastrous earthquake) should donations exceed Japan’s need for assistance.
Over the long term, I hope Japan’s tragedy reminds all of us to remember that no matter how hard we work individually, we can’t do everything on our own. I hope we all invest in making our local, national, and international institutions strong enough for the worst-case scenarios – so that when disaster does strike, we’re ready to help one another.