Disaster volunteerism : a utilitarian perspective

16 Oct 2019

It is interesting that during a major disaster that the vast majority of individuals who actively respond and seek to help are volunteers, in fact according to the American Red Cross 95% of their relief workers are volunteers. Furthermore, there exists a substantial number of volunteer organisations that facilitate the placement of individuals who have made a conscious decision to assist and give up their time for this purpose. This paper seeks to contextualise this human endeavour within the philosophical framework of ?Utilitarianism? as espoused by Mill, whose essential premise is that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote human happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. The key linkage between utilitarian theory and disaster volunteerism is the notion that there is an undertaking to promote social, economic and/or environmental reform, and that ultimately only good or happy consequences matter. It is also important to emphasise that the response to a disaster may be characterised not only by specialist and highly trained individuals, but ordinary citizens volunteering their time, knowledge, skills and resources to help others in times of crisis. The issue here is to understand disaster volunteerism within utilitarian theory. It is contended that an improved theoretical understanding of this crucial and supportive component within the disaster management industry will be associated with beneficial economic, social and environmental consequences.