Kudos To Japan For Debris Assist

Japan is providing $5 million to the United States to help with collection and disposal of marine debris from the 2011 tsunami disaster. How’s that for Asia-Pacific economic cooperation?

The huge tsunami triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake March 11, 2011, off Japan’s northeastern coast killed or left more than 18,000 people missing and washed millions of tons of debris into the sea. NOAA said it expected some of the debris to wash up on U.S. shores in the next several years, and indeed some already has. Japan’s donation will help fund its monitoring, removal and processing.

True to form, an Alaskan senator immediately asked for $15 million for tsunami debris cleanup on the West Coast included in a federal disaster relief package for states affected by super-storm Sandy. Sen. Mark Begich said it’s embarrassing that the government of Japan has put more funding toward the debris cleanup than the U.S. government has. He added the impact of debris from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan reaching U.S. shores is as much a natural disaster as a hurricane, drought or wildfire, it’s just unfolding in slow motion. He is recommending a three-to-one match of the Japanese funding “as the very least” the federal government can do to help cleanup efforts in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.

It seemed to be a discussion between cultures. In announcing the Foreign Ministry’s donation, Japan referred to it as “their” tsunami. It’s amazing how one culture can view a disaster in such humble fashion while another goes to the highest level of government for immediate relief and uses Japan’s donation as leverage in requesting resources in the process.

It may be the start of something new. What would happen if “our” vog started making people sick or killing crops? Would our culture’s behavior dictate a donation to help clear the air or financially answer for any destruction caused by a volcanic eruption? Or should we suggest that everyone buy insurance to cover any foreseen disasters?

Come to think of it, our culture already has a track record for paying residents for accidents, government mistakes and disasters. We even pay people for not working and, in some cases, force them to buy insurance.

We are a generous nation and will continue to help other nations that need help during a disaster, no matter who owns the legal responsibility.

With this new precedent unfolding, maybe we need more small print in our contracts. It would say simply, “It’s not our fault, you are on your own.”