PRAGUE — The shattering earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 have wrought devastating physical damage — aggravated by the threat of a nuclear disaster — across the country’s northeastern coastal areas, and have rekindled grave fears in the only country to have experienced fully the atom’s potential for horror.
Thousands of people are missing, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and millions are without water, food, or heating in near-freezing temperatures. The death toll is expected to exceed 15,000.
Because Japan is a rich country, some people may be tempted to view it as being in a position to undertake most of the effort to rebuild on its own. After all, in a post-economic-crisis world of scarce public and private resources, disaster-relief efforts, one might argue, should target only poorer countries and peoples.
But the scale of the disaster facing Japan is so monumental that it demands our help. A shared sense of human solidarity is just as important to citizens of powerful countries as it is to poorer countries. Indeed, such solidarity, when expressed at times like this, can engender feelings of gratitude and trust that can last for generations.
The threat posed by the potential reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is perhaps the starkest demonstration imaginable that we live in an interdependent world, one in which governments must collaborate in novel ways to ensure our health and safety. Indeed, to cooperate in this way will require the emergence of a new global civil society, whose foundation can be built only with the type of international solidarity that Japan needs now.
Japan has done its part. For decades, the Japanese have been generous in supporting people around the world in times of need, providing extensive financial assistance to developing countries and spearheading rescue and relief activities when disasters have struck. Now it is time for the international community to step up and show the same concern for Japan.
Governments, international organizations, and civil societies around the world have responded by sending professionals, supplies, and aid. Given the extent of the damage, however, there is little doubt that this support will be far from sufficient. It is time for all of us, not just in our professional capacities, but also as individuals, to turn our thoughts and actions to those affected.
We would like to call upon readers of this appeal to help raise funds to support the relief organizations currently working in the affected areas, as well as for the extensive reconstruction efforts that will follow.
The Nippon Foundation, chaired by Yohei Sasakawa, has set up a Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund for this purpose. The fund will be managed with the utmost transparency, and in a way that will most benefit those in the affected regions. Donations can be made online through the Nippon Foundation Web site.
It is our hope that all of us will reach out to disaster victims with our whole hearts, and give, through the Nippon Foundation’s fund or through any other respected and recognized humanitarian organization, whatever we can to enable Japan’s thousands of victims to recover the simple dignity of normal life. Let us respond to this catastrophe with the best of our humanity and a true sense of solidarity.
Vaclav Havel was president of the Czech Republic, Desmond Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Richard von Weizsacker is former president of the Federal Republic of Germany. Donations to the Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund can be made online at www.nippon-foundation.or.jp/eng/. © 2011 Project Syndicate