Towards a Moral Philosophy of Natural Disaster Mitigation

March 1989 (VOL. 7, NO. 1)

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While there is often considerable discussion about the effectiveness, political feasibility, legality, and other aspects of natural disaster mitigation, moral and ethical dimensions are usually overlooked. This paper argues that the disaster planning community should begin to explicitly consider the moral foundations of public natural disaster mitigation policy. At the most basic level the key question arises: what is the extent of government\\'s moral obligation to protect people and property from natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes? While no definitive theory or position is put forth here, the author identifies several possible bases or elements of such moral theory of mitigation. Among the moral criteria considered are: utilitarian and market failure rationales; the concept of basic rights; culpability and prevention of harm standards; and paternalism. Other non-disaster moral obligations, some conflicting and some complementary, are also identified and discussed.