Local Japanese agencies meeting needs where country's resources still overwhelmed

Nearly three weeks after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeastern coast of Japan, the country's domestic resources alone aren't sufficient to deal with the disaster. CWS is working with local partners to coordinate emergency relief for about 25,000 individuals sheltered at 100 evacuation sites.

Devastation in Japan

Once a peaceful harbor city filled with fisherman and seafood processing plants, now all remains are smashed houses, cars on top of graveyards, ships beside houses, with a smell that is the mixture of oil, sea water and sewage.  Photo: Takeshi Komino/CWS

TOKYO, JAPAN – Nearly three weeks after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeastern coast of Japan, Church World Service reports that the country’s domestic resources alone aren’t sufficient to deal with the disaster, and there are still thousands who haven’t yet received assistance.

From Tokyo, Takeshi Komino, CWS Asia/Pacific's head of emergencies, is coordinating CWS efforts in Japan.  Over the weekend, Komino reported that "It is evident that even a very developed country like Japan is not able to cope with its domestic resources only, due to the magnitude of four nearly simultaneous disasters – a 9.0 earthquake, tsunami, nuclear threat, and freezing winter weather in affected areas.

"Survivors I interviewed echo the same point, that relief efforts reported in the media are not consistently reaching them, which tells us there is a huge variation on where needs are somewhat being met and not being met at all," he said.

"These people who are staying in extremely difficult conditions at the evacuation sites, they really do need everyone’s help.  Their basic needs must be met, and we need to be there when they re-formulate their communities.  Governments can make systems and policies, but it’s people who make communities.  As the people centered organization that we are, we can formulate people-centered assistance, which is a key aspect in this relief and recovery," Komino says.

Responding to the enormous need, CWS has expanded its initial appeal and fundraising campaign to meet current and anticipated needs.

CWS is now working with local partners in Japan to coordinate emergency relief for about 25,000 individuals sheltered at 100 evacuation sites in Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Ibaragi and Tochigi Prefectures.

CWS's Komino reports that needs are changing rapidly, even as the government copes with the triple challenge of working to restore safety at the damaged nuclear plant, building temporary shelters, and dealing with the half million people living at evacuation sites or visiting daily because they have no resources at home.

Komino credits the government for working hard to meet these challenges, but points out that the government simply does not "have the human resources to serve the most vulnerable, including people who can’t even go to these evacuation sites."

That is where local Japanese partner agencies have a distinct advantage, being "stationed in the field and working with the affected population on a daily basis," he said.  Those local agencies will play a key role in finding and filling people’s changing needs, Komino said, "much more precisely and faster … and will enable CWS to target the most vulnerable, including those unable to go to evacuation sites."

Almost half of the city centers in Iwate Prefecture were destroyed in the tsunami.  So far, there has been virtually no humanitarian coordination there, Komino reports, and distribution of relief items has stalled.

According to reports, a growing number of people at evacuation sites in the area are suffering from influenza and diarrhea and medicines are not reaching them consistently.

In Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, CWS-supported assistance includes mobile medical services, care at stationary clinics, basic hygiene items, temporary toilets, and communications services for survivors at evacuation sites.

That work is being implemented by Japan Platform partner Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development with Tohoku International Clinic in Natori City serving as hub for stationary medical services – the only clinic or hospital in Natori not affected by the disaster.

In Miyagi Prefecture’s Kesennuma City and Ishinomaki City, whose port area is totally destroyed, temperatures fall below zero degrees Celsius.  CWS partners Peace Boat, Civic Force and Japan Lutheran Emergency Relief are responding to requests from survivors at evacuation centers with food, water, clothing, fuel and hygiene items to serve at least 10,000 people.

From tax accountant to emergency center leader in seconds
When the tsunami struck, Yoshiaki Shoji, a tax accountant in Ishinomaki, barely escaped. "If I was 5 seconds late, I think I was dead," he told CWS.

Shoji is now a volunteer leader at an evacuation center in the city’s Yamato elementary school.  He said with 500 people currently staying at the center and a flow of daily visitors, they’re serving more than 2,300 people.  Everything from food and water to underwear and elderly care is still scarce.

CWS and its partners are now expediting four 10-ton trucks from Tokyo to the Ishinomaki and Kesennuma centers to deliver the desperately needed supplies.

In Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, CWS and partner National Christian Council in Japan are collaborating with member churches to find housing for individuals.

In Iwate, working with OXFAM Japan and the Japan Organization for International Cooperation on Family Services, CWS is providing counseling for pregnant women and women with young children and helping them find safe, private spaces to stay, rather than crowded evacuation environments.

Over the weekend, at Ishinomaki’s school evacuation center, survivor Hideaki Aonuma told the CWS team he had seen nothing indicating any future plans for the evacuees.

“Houses gone, jobs gone, families are scattered," another survivor said.  "We don’t know how long more we should stay here and where we should go next."

CWS conducts its emergency response work globally according to quality and accountability standards as set out by the international Sphere Project.


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