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.