Ethical Dilemma From Helping the Victims

Many people from around the world felt the urge to help the tsunami victims. Many of them, however, did not anticipate the many ethical dilemmas that would arise from trying to help the thousands of victims.

Relief organizations define need in a way that only allows relief for a handful of victims. For most of these organizations, need is based on the people that lost the most. In the documentary, ‘The Third Wave”, one of the volunteers assists an antique seller who lost his shop by giving him $500 in cash. The other victims in this film are disappointed with this volunteer as the $500 could have been spread more evenly between the victims who received nothing. 1 This is an example of the two ethical assertions that are in conflict with one another are: a) many more than the antique seller were impacted by the tsunami and b) relief organizations only have a few resources and therefore cannot help everyone. Relief organizations believe that giving all of on resource to one person makes more of an impact than giving a whole village a tiny piece of that resource. However, this causes more tension (and possibly fighting) between those who received a certain resource and those who did not.

The method in which relief organizations have decided to define “need” is one way to explain why these ethical assertions exist. From the very beginning of natural disaster relief, volunteers have found that the amount of materials lost can never be completely reimbursed. Consequently, the amount of assistance given to certain people and certain places are discussions that occur between every relief organization. There are meticulous planning sessions, assessments, and research done to work these details out, but because not everyone can receive relief, volunteers have found that they cannot help one group, without hurting another group. 2 The existence of poverty in these countries and the worsening of the poverty-stricken people in tsunami-affected countries is one reason to explain the rise of these ethical assertions. Many of the affected countries were already considered to be third world countries because of a previous or current corrupt (or lack) of economic and political institutions. When a tsunami hits, these already poverty-stricken people are worse off as family members die (family members are often see as economic assets) and property is damaged. 3 Poorer people are more vulnerable to floods and their houses rest close to the river because property is cheaper there. The impoverished individuals are less likely to have insurance policies, and therefore may be worse off when a tsunami hits. 4 No one is, however, better off in a tsunami and thus everyone is in need of assistance.

  1. The Third Wave: A Volunteer Story. Directed by Alison Thompson. 2009.
  2. “Ethical Issues.” In Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 128-43. Vol. 17 of Health Disaster Management: Guidelines for Evaluation and Research in the Utstein Style. Accessed November 2, 2014. http://www.wadem.org/guidelines/chapter_8.pdf
  3. Sugiyarto, Guntur, and A. T. Hagiwara. “Poverty Impact of the Tsunami: An Initial Assessment and Scenario Analysis.” Paper presented at PEP Research Network General Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 2005. Accessed November 2, 2014. http://www.pep-net.org/sites/pep-net.org/files/typo3doc/pdf/files_events/4th_colombo/Sugiyarto.pdf.
  4. Mulligan, Adrian. Lecture, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, January 2014

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