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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1 | Features

The Tsunami and Economic Relief

WHEN THE WORLD’S strongest earthquake in 40 years shook the countries around the Indian Ocean, there was no established mechanism in place to communicate warnings about its aftermath: the massive tsunami. There were up to two hours in which a warning by radio, television, and loudspeakers could have saved lives. But the warnings were not passed on, and hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the waves in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other places close by.

Interestingly, wild animals were not destroyed by the tsunami. Apparently, the animals’ instincts help them to communicate, receive, and understand warnings about incoming disasters. People, though part of nature, no longer recognize these signals coming from other creatures.

The tsunami catastrophe can teach us something about humanity’s survival network, however. While the tsunami attacked only a single region, we all feel affected by it — we all feel tremendous loss and solidarity with the victims. Our common sense of vulnerability turns this disaster into an opportunity to get involved in relief efforts and the reconstruction of affected countries. As members of the human community — and the Christian community — we can help to make a virtue of the disaster.

In Seattle Pacific University’s School of Business and Economics, we have been
considering in particular the economic impact of the tsunami and the responsibility of individuals, governments, and corporations in meeting the needs for economic aid. Economic damage in the Indian Ocean region will run into billions of dollars, with the cost for Thailand alone estimated at $510 million. For all of the affected countries, donations will be needed to help cover the costs of rebuilding.

Individuals from around the world have responded to this need with great generosity. Governments, too, have made substantial financial commitments. Of particular interest to my colleagues and students, however, is the question of corporate social responsibility. Should the world’s corporations give a portion of their profits to help victims of the tsunami? It sounds like a good idea, but Remember: Corporate philanthropy is a charity with other people’s money, which is not philanthropy at all. It is not a display of moral virtue to be charitable with money that is owed to shareholders. The role of the corporation in responding to disaster should be addressed in light of best business practices and sound ethical principles — and this is an opportunity to do just that.

The tsunami is arguably the first global catastrophe in the sense of the worldwide emotions it generated. It visibly demonstrated that we are all part of a single human family with shared responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities is appropriately and effectively addressing the economic needs of countries and people devastated by natural disaster.


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