Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility

If you’ve caught up with the news in the last 72 hours or so, you know about the typhoon that destroyed the Philippines this weekend. As the hours pass, they continue to tally up numbers: homes lost, people that need fed, dead bodies to bury. The storm was the strongest recorded typhoon in history and the official fatality count keeps rising, like the waters as the storm came in, higher and higher.

When tragedy strikes and someone dies, we feel empathy for the family. We can imagine the same happening to us, one of our own lost, and the sadness it causes. When five people die, we can imagine five families suffering through those feelings. Then as the numbers climb, fifty, five hundred, five thousand, we lose touch. The sadness is unimaginable, the tragedy harder and harder to fathom. It’s one thing to know that six million people died under Hitler’s direction, it’s another to walk into the Hall of Names. There’s a reason we break down in tears. Faced with the individuality of each of those millions of people is overwhelming, and suddenly we can feel that pain. That same sorrow that eludes us when we see a number, millions. Millions.

So we watch the newscaster talk about homes destroyed, humanitarian workers trying to reach the people that need it the most. We hear two thousand, ten thousand, a city of two hundred thousand residents laid bare, in ruins, destroyed. It’s so hard to picture, but it’s not impossible. It takes some effort. It takes a Google search to find a comparably-populated US city. Bigger than Vancouver, Washington, smaller than Madison, Wisconsin. About 2/3 of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Similar to Richmond, Virginia.

Once you’ve taken that time, you can imagine the destruction and you can understand the huge need in a place far across the ocean. Suddenly the unfathomable is something you can fathom. But why should you? Why feel pain and suffering for people you’ve never met, maybe will never meet and don’t influence your life? Why does it matter what happens across the ocean to a government obviously corrupt and hasn’t prepared for typhoons, which are regular occurrences? Why should you even be able to pick out the Philippines on a map?

Because the human experience would be worthless without emotions, empathy and social constructions. It’s what makes us human, it’s what drives civilization. It’s why your brain is hardwired to seek out friends and love. It’s why we form social groups and run businesses and opt for the small coffee shop, where the barista knows us. What kind of life would it be if you cut off the emotions and feelings that weren’t convenient to you? Doesn’t that destroy half the picture, when you refuse to use certain colors?

But why should you do anything? Why should you spend $20 out of your hard-earned paycheck for someone who probably lived in a box and begged on the street to begin with? You aren’t responsible for the typhoon, and you aren’t responsible for helping anyone destroyed by the typhoon. Why should you help someone so displaced from you and your life?

Because we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the world anymore. Because your little life inside Alabama is intertwined with the rest of the world, and you don’t get to choose. Because you’re no longer a citizen only of your city or state or just country, you’re a citizen of this planet. You don’t get to brush that mantle of responsibility off, because you don’t want it. It’s on your shoulders, literally. Made in Taiwan. Carry it.

Why you? The government has more money and is responsible. The government has your tax dollars, they should use them. The United Nations and NATO are big organizations with big budgets, why aren’t they helping? It’s not your job, you aren’t in charge of saving the world. This isn’t your task.

Who cares? Who cares if it isn’t your job? Who cares if you’re not supposed to be the one helping? Who cares if the government should take care of it and the Red Cross should take care of it and you aren’t on the list of people who should do something about it? I don’t give a damn about should, would, could, my pockets are dry from the leechy government, not my problem.

If you have money to spare, if you have a heart for human suffering, if you are safe and warm and dry and alive and can see your next paycheck, you can help someone, with little negative effect on yourself. And I have to argue that if you have those rare comforts, it’s immoral to not help in the face of human suffering. It’s immoral to eat your bowl of ice cream instead, switch on Scrubs and try to forget the whole mess. It’s uncomfortable and sad and difficult to fathom, but this is real life and this is a life that you are a part of, whether you’d like to acknowledge it or not.

There are thousands of people suffering, and you can help. Do so.

CNN: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors
CNN: “Worse than hell” in typhoon-ravaged Philippines
Wikipedia: International Response to Hurricane Katrina
Calgary Herald: Cambodian orphans donate to help Alberta flood victims


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11 thoughts on “Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility”

  1. Yeah!!! Great post Sally. Everyone can make a difference. I used to fundraise for shelter dogs, and once we had one who needed $2500 for surgery. I asked for people to donate $5… just $5. Not $35, not $50, not $100. Just an easy manageable $5. That was the fastest fundraiser I ever had 🙂 (Also thank you for the info and the news links…I am sooooooo out of the loop down here with no TV and limited time online, so I don’t spend as much time looking at the news any more. So sad what’s going on over there!)

    1. Thanks for reading all the way through, without pictures, hah! I totally agree, people can make a difference no matter how small their contribution. And with the Internet, it could take less than five minutes. Amazing.

      Glad you found the links helpful, too! Hopefully the people of the Philippines won’t suffer more than they have to and those that survived the typhoon don’t needlessly die from other, preventable reasons.

  2. An amazing post Sally, and you’ve nailed it!! So many people, myself included, have ignored the plight of others for too long and for all the excuses you’ve given as examples. I have tried to change my outlook the last few years, and continue to try and do my little bit by raising a few dollars and more awareness.

    Good for you.
    I will put my money where my mouth is.
    How about the rest of you awesome followers of this awesome blog??

    1. Glad you love the post. I think if everyone helps when they can, instead of when they should, then there would be a whole lot less helping to be done at all!

      Travel is one of those things that puts “others” into a view of human, not just other-ly… which makes it much more difficult to ignore tragedies like this. For those who don’t travel, it’s much much easier to forget about it. But it’s still not right. I’m glad you’ve done your best these past few years, it’s more than a lot of people can say!

  3. It’s such a tragedy. Hearing the numbers go up and up and up was just unbelievable. I’m just glad people around the world are doing all they can to help and donate either their time or money or both. The West does tend to forget about a lot of awful things on the other side of the world. Really lovely post.

    1. Thank you, Ceri. It really is unbelievable, that’s the best word to describe it. I guess the best I can do is remind the people I know about disasters and other things that they easily forget… hence this post.

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