Assisting the Victims of Disaster

Natural and man-made disasters continue to afflict mankind, and to call forth from the peoples of the world a generous and noble response. This compulsion to help when tragedy befalls others is evidence of the sense of common humanity which binds us together and which, in times of stress and great need, transcends the political and other issues which divide mankind.

During the past year the earthquake in Peru, the typhoon and tidal wave in Pakistan and the civil wars in Nigeria and Jordan were events which generated this common instinct to alleviate human suffering.

Modern technology has greatly affected both the world's desire and ability to provide disaster assistance. Modern communications are such that disasters of scale are known around the world almost immediately, and in a form which powerfully arouses the instinct to help. And modern transportation is such that aid can be effectively brought to bear in a very short period of time.

These facts underline the inadequacy of the present arrangement for coordinating international assistance to disaster victims. Once disaster strikes, the need for help is by definition a matter of great urgency. The local authorities are inevitably too overwhelmed with other tasks to deal individually with each prospective donor. Nor is there any reason to expect that local authorities at the scene of a disaster will be experienced in dealing with tragedies of such scale. It is unrealistic, in such a situation, to expect of them the experience or the detachment required to assess the need quickly and comprehensively. They should not be additionally burdened at such a moment with the task of drawing up a coordinated program for obtaining and distributing what is needed. Some single authority, in concert with the local government, should do that, and should also take on the task of dealing with all those who wish to assist to ensure that their assistance is in the most useful form.

The need for such an arrangement is, I think, clear. The victims of natural disasters are entitled to it, as are the private and government donors whose only desire is to help but who cannot, individually, ensure that their efforts have the maximum utility. The world's ability to help has been transformed by modern technology, and it is time that the world organize its efforts on an international scale and with the full benefit of the considerable experience which, unhappily, we have had with such events.

The United Nations General Assembly has indicated its desire to deal with this problem. Last year it adopted a resolution calling for the Secretary General to submit recommendations for disaster relief planning. We welcome this development and will cooperate fully with the appropriate authorities of the U.N. and of other countries in the development of a more rational approach by the world community to disaster relief. We hope, before the year is out, to have taken the modest organizational steps necessary to insure that the world's response to disaster victims is characterized in the future by high efficiency as well as great generosity.