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Societal Response to Hurricane Mitch and Intra- versus Intergenerational Equity Issues: Whose Norms Should Apply?

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Late in the 1998 hurricane season, Central America was slammed by a devastating hurricane. Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize were greatly impacted by Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest storms to affect the region in the past 200 years. The economies of each of these countries were badly affected. In the case of Honduras — at the time the fourth-poorest country in Latin America — its president suggested that 50 years of progress had been wiped out by the floods and mudslides associated with this relatively short-lived storm system. Humanitarian assistance poured into the region in the first months following the disaster. As of mid-2000, various national, bilateral, international, and nongovernmental programs were in progress or on the drawing board for recovery, reconstruction, and renewed development of the worst affected countries. Using Honduras as a case study, some of the ethical issues that abound in the decisions of whom to help, when, and how to help them in the wake of such an extreme climate-related human tragedy are examined. Should development assistance be focused on those who have been directly and adversely affected by this storm, or should the emphasis be on reducing the risk of exposure by future generations to such disasters? Is there yet another approach that seeks to protect future generations from similar harm while at the same time assisting present-day victims to get through their hardships?
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Keywords: Hurricane Mitch; disaster relief; intergenerational equity; precautionary principle; sustainable development

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO., 2: Carleton College, Northfield, MN.

Publication date: 2000-12-01

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