Modern biologists like Richard Dawkins tell us that altruism is a human aberration: we are designed by nature to care for no one but ourselves. Self-interest is the engine of evolution, driven by the 'selfish gene'. I cannot argue with science. I will leave that to the native Canadians on the Mount Currie Reserve in British Columbia. They donated C$2,200 ($13,900) to the Red Cross for the tsunami relief fund. What made this remarkable is that the money had been raised for disaster relief here in Canada-to help natives hit by forest fires and flooding, who are living under awful conditions in damaged homes. It was a case of the needy taking care of the most needy. So much for biology. The Buddhists of Burnaby, in British Columbia, went one better. They announced that they plan to sell a new temple, worth C$500,000, and give all the money to the tsunami victims. 'Here, take the roof over our heads,' the Buddhists are saying. 'You need it more than we do.' Mosques, churches and synagogues all announced fund-raising programmes, in a campaign that cut across religious lines. Even the big credit card companies buckled, and announced that they will waive transaction fees on donations to charity. When the hard-hearted accountants of Visa and American Express surrender that kind of money, you know the world's axis has shifted a little. So what happened? Is it simply a matter of 'goodness and guilt', as The Globe and Mail glibly summed it up in a front-page headline? And how does one reconcile all this charity with the fact that in the Iranian city of Bam, where 31,000 people were killed in an earthquake a year ago, most of the survivors are still living in prefab shelters, and the world has forgotten? Whether we are hard-wired for altruism or not, most sociologists would probably agree that humans are compassionate, but only under the right stimulation. It was the horrific uniqueness of the tsunami disaster, as much as the scale of the damage, that caught our attention and opened our wallets. That, and the television images, day after day, which punched holes in our hearts. Years ago, in the Ethiopian desert, I was filming the third modern famine in the Horn of Africa, and an aid worker asked me how much this exercise in journalism was costing me. I told him: C$20,000. 'Why don't you just give us this money to feed people, and take the next plane home, for all the good it will do?' he snapped. His point, of course, was that the world had grown tired of pictures of starving African children. The real test of altruism is its durability. Will we still care about the Asian disaster victims when the TV networks have packed up and returned home? Or will the selfish gene have the last word, again?