Although it has now been more than three years since the tragic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe of northeastern Japan, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) remains as busy as ever.
Immediately after the disaster, the organisation rushed into service, setting up emergency centres and sending medical support to the affected areas, which included the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi. Nearly 900 medical teams were dispatched to the region, drawing on support and supplies from the society’s 92 hospitals across the country. The Red Cross helped establish temporary facilities to treat patients, set up domestic emergency response units and mobile health teams.
The JRCS even sent out volunteers nearly 300 times to offer psychological support to people displaced from their homes and in temporary evacuation centres.
All of this work was supported by more than $1 billion in worldwide donations sent from Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in more than 100 countries.
“The Japanese Red Cross mainly deals with the emergency phase by sending out medical teams and relief aid,” says Hiroshi Narita, JRCS director general of organisational development, through an interpreter. “But because there were a lot of donations and support from around the world, we were able to start reconstruction projects. That was very new for the Japanese Red Cross.”
The result has been some remarkable projects in support of the thousands displaced from their homes by the triple disaster. Red Cross donations have helped build nearly 800 prefabricated homes in nine locations across the affected region. This has helped maintain a sense of community for people who lost their homes, including many elderly who otherwise might have been left isolated.
“At the moment, we help out with psychological care for those people living in prefabricated houses,” says Narita. “This is permanent housing.”
The JRCS also helped build temporary gymnasiums, childcare facilities and indoor playgrounds known as “smile parks” across Fukushima, an area where outdoor play is limited due to concerns over radiation from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The JRCS even organised summer camps in Hokkaido, where children from disaster-hit areas could develop physically and heal emotionally by playing together and making new friends.
JRCS donations also helped to buy new heaters and appliances for people in temporary housing.
“We were also able to send out a lot of household electrical appliances [to 133,000 households],” adds Narita. “And during winter, we sent heaters to people in 729 locations.”
Perhaps one of the largest projects undertaken by the JRCS was the reconstruction of the Kesennuma Municipal Motoyoshi Hospital, in Miyagi prefecture, which had filled with mud during the tsunami. The JRCS contributed half the funds for major repairs on the facility and to supply medical equipment. The hospital has handled more than 23,000 outpatients since the reconstruction.
The Red Cross hospital in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, was one of the few facilities in the region that survived the disaster. But as a result, it was overrun with patients. Donations are now helping to construct a new hospital ward, slated for completion next year.
While Narita points out that there are still reconstruction projects that need to be supported, disaster readiness for the future is also an important focus for the JRCS. The organisation is currently developing educational programmes and disaster preparation “tool-kits” for students and teachers.
“We are providing education tool-kits to teachers, so they can tell the children what actions need to be taken to save themselves.”
These tool-kits include instructions on what to do during an earthquake and a video teaching children how to move to higher ground in the event of a tsunami.
Narita says that out of the 3/11 tragedy, the JRCS developed a three-step programme for disaster readiness and relief: first, learning how to help oneself; second, knowing how to help others; and third, receiving outside help. He says the school programmes currently focus on step one, with step two to follow soon.
With most of the large-scale recovery projects nearly finished, the focus now for the JRCS is on helping people get on with their lives and build a sense of community. Many residents from the areas near the Fukushima nuclear plant will likely never be able to return to their homes. These people need emotional, as well as on-going financial, support.
“We’re not asking for more money for reconstruction,” he says. “While much has been achieved in the past three years, we recognise that the recovery process will not be complete at the end of this project period. With the plight of the survivors on-going, we will remain active in delivering assistance for years to come by using the money [we] receive.
“We also still have a cash-grant donations system, which gives out money directly to affected prefectures.”
Since medical teams and relief activities are supported by membership fees and donations, Narita says the JRCS would be “grateful” for further donations from the public and corporations.© Japan Today