March 18, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 1Comment

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.

One thought on “Japan’s Disaster and the Limits of Self-Sufficiency

  1. By the same token, there is so little that government can do in a socialist society. The Japanese system was fraught with corruption and on a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT of all things. The tsunami will bring to light all sorts of disastrous things, like plant safety and the ONLY thing that kept this from becoming a Chernobyl was the design of the rods (US) and the fact that Inconel melting into a radioactive mass will break the reactions.

    I on the other hand demand that my children be totally self sufficient. Have since they were 10. 2 am Big Daddy rolls through the house and screams earthquake and they roll out, drop to the floor and grab their flashlights. Out come the shoes, on they go and a backpack next to the door. Having a house that cost an extra 20,000 to bring it up to an 8.5 standard is also something that your average gomer isnt going to do. Expensive but do you live next to a beach or a fault line? They are 17 and 21 now and they have subdued intruders, with the oldest carrying a Glock now. The 17 year old is able to field strip and assemble an M-16 in about 25 seconds in the dark. So, if it happens and they are not killed they have food, water, guns and ammo, and they are both up to EMT-2 level. They can live on the land, but they know what to do if a nearby nuke plant gets whacked and the water/food is contaminated.

    Society is where you make it and it starts with one, then two and on and on. The fact is that we in the US are way too dependent on government and we are seeing the fractures starting not from a disaster, but from the costs of maintaining that government. If it happened now in the US it could collapse the government.

    Anyone who depends on government to do the right things, in a timely manner is someone getting their checkbooks out to pay taxes, which will be misspent and sent to some of the cheesiest candidates so they can stay in power and thats both sides of the aisle.

    Let even a 7.5 hit the central US and I wouldn’t be surprised if the US broke apart from it.

    Personal responsibility to take personal care of ones personal things and issues. How many of you can last for a month if there is a quake? Might hurt your feelings but thats the time they believe that some in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi would see their first food and water shipments.

    Control what you can, when you can and that means just about everything in your life. Never ever let government take that away from you. You abrogate your responsibilities to yourself and family to the government – They might not be there on time …. Or worse in time.

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