This is one of those cases where rational reasoning talks its way around to absurdity. We have to be able to hold to our own interest: first myself, then my family, then my circle of friends, then my community, my country, my country's allies. A flood in my town that kills two people is more important to me than a flood in China that kills a thousand people. It has to be that way: we each have to take care of our own, look out for our own, before we can reach out further.
To suggest that I should be more worried about children in Africa than about my own child is simply not on. Yes, I know that children in Africa are much more in need than children in Canada, but it is my right and my responsibility to put my own first. We applaud Bill Gates for providing aid to people in need around the world, but we would also rightly condemn him if he neglected his own children.
In this case, there is a lot more riding on the preparations for H1N1 than just the fatality rate. The world has not yet come out of a global financial crisis and recession, and H1N1 could destroy our recovery - whether or not a single person dies. Even in its current "mild" form, H1N1 makes people very ill for a week or two. Look at the transmission rates in Australia and New Zealand during their flu season last year. Look at the transmission rates on US college campuses this fall. Now imagine your company: what would happen if 50% or more of employees, suppliers, and service workers were too ill to work for two weeks? Even if they weren't sick, parents would have to stay home if their kids were. What if schools closed, transit was curtailed (due to sick drivers), grocery stores went unstocked, banks shut down, we had electricity brown-outs? That's not even mentioning chaos at doctor's offices and hospitals, where staff unavailability could threaten people who require care for other sorts of ailments. And it's not taking into account the very real threat that the virus will mutate and become more dangerous.
It's not "indecent" for our government to spend a lot of money preparing for this year's flu season: it would be indecent if they didn't.
I am reminded of a small section of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: a church group in the small southern town is collecting money for people in Africa while showing no concern for persecuted African-Americans in their own community. The reader's instincive response should be that it's appalling and hypocritical that they care for people far away more than for their neighbors.
Other than the ethical issues, there is a practical problem with caring more for the far-flung than the local: help is much more effective when applied locally. Parents have to be the ones to take responsibility for their children, and governments have to take care of their citizens. It seems absurd even to have to argue this point, but I increasingly run into arguments that deny the primal importance of the personal and local, and attempt to assign a universal guilt because of the mountain of suffering elsewhere in the world. Part of this line of reasoning is the fallacy that our own problems are somehow invalid because other people have bigger problems.