On your way to work you pass a small pond. On hot days, children sometimes play in the pond, which is only knee-deep. The weather’s cool today, though, and the hour is early, so you are surprised to see a child splashing about in the pond. As you get closer, you see that it is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. You look for parents or babysitter, but there is no one else around. The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in easy and safe, but you will ruin the shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. By the time you hand the child over to someone responsible for him, and change your clothes, you’ll be late for work. What should you do?
Ok. I lied. It’s not a riddle. It’s the opening paragraph of Peter Singer‘s new book The Life You Can Save. Best known for his vegetarian manifesto Animal Liberation, Singer’s ideas are always so well thought out that I can never find holes in his logic. The “riddle” I asked, is a question he puts to his Princeton students every year and, without fail, the answer, thankfully, is that you save the child. Ruining a pair of shoes and being late for work is obviously not as important as saving the life of a child. Well then, is Singer’s next question, what’s the difference between letting that child drown and spending $100 on a pair of shoes when you could have given it to Oxfam or the Red Cross, organization that save lives. Tough call. There are no easy answers here.
Well, there is one easy answer. Right now there are thousands of Haitians who are homless, who have lost family members, who don’t have clean water and who more than likely have no idea where there next meal will come from. Many have called it hell. I’ve never heard this much trembling emotion in every reporters voice who has witnessed first hand what has happened to an already poverty-stricken country. GayUganda, a famous blogger from Uganda, put it in heartbreaking words:
Haiti clouds my mind.
I have had no electricity for close on 24 hours. All batteries down. All. even phone. And, when it came, back it went.
So, when I wake in the middle of the night and find it on, I jump to put the computer and TV on.
No, the main story is not Uganda [grin]. It is Haiti.
Hell. It is no grin. It is a rictus of pain. What am seeing on the screen is beyond description.
It is hell on earth. It is hell on any part of the world.
My heart goes out to those people. And, again, I am amazed as the world’s peoples turn and give aid, help to those who are in critical need. We human beings are really amazing. We are. Cruel, cruel, cruel we can be. But, we can also have a heartbreaking degree of compassion.
Imagine. A homosexual person in a country where his government is considering making homosexuality punishable death–pitying someone else.
I suggest that anyone who can donate a couple bucks. The Canadian government will match every dollar donated effectively doubling your contribution. Don’t know where to donate? Here’s are some suggestions:
Aid Watch, a blog run by development expert Bill Easterly, has a good post with suggestions on where to donate and where to get information on Haiti. The Canadian government also has a site with more suggestions. Even the Montreal Canadiens are out there suggesting Unicef and are donating the proceeds of their in-house lottery tonight and Saturday night. I personally chose to donate to the Canadian Red Cross.
If you want to donate but have doubts about where your money goes or how effective your money is at saving lives, I suggest watching this bloggingheads debate (below) between Singer and Bill Easterly, a man who worries many NGOs are not using donated money effectively. They spoke before the earthquake in Haiti but their debate is really constructive–it addresses a lot of the shortcomings of development aid–and provides a list of organizations that use donations the most effectively.