Approaching March 11th – From Yukie OSA, President

It has been almost one year since March 11th, 2011. Even as of today on March 1st, 2012, 3,276 people from young to old are still reported missing, and 15,854 people have been confirmed dead. I would like to take this opportunity to once again express my condolences to those who have passed in this unprecedented disaster, and extend my prayers to those who have lost family members, friends, acquaintances, and other loved ones.
As for Fukushima Prefecture, in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent man-made disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, approximately 97,000 people have evacuated within the prefecture and 63,000 people to nearby prefectures. For the majority of them, the prospect of returning home is bleak. I cannot fathom how painful and distressing this past year must have been for them, and I express my deepest sympathy to everyone who have had their lives affected by this series of catastrophic events.

It was half a year ago on September 11th of last year when I last conveyed my gratitude to all our supporters. Since then, we have continued to receive support from individuals, private companies, organizations, and foundations, both in and outside of Japan. The support has come in the form of funds, commodities, and services.
We have received a total of approximately 2,191,000,000 JPY, and, by the end of February, we had spent approximately 1,700,000,000 JPY for various relief efforts. The details of our activities have been made available every month through our website, newsletters, and reports. It is your contributions that make our projects possible. We ensure you that your donations and grants will continue to be used with care for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

During the past six months, many things have come to light through media and research. Response procedures to the natural disasters and to the nuclear power plant failure have undergone review, so that lessons learned may be extracted and utilized for future disaster prevention and mitigation measures. Here, I would like to introduce two media reports relating to AAR JAPAN’s activities.
The first sheds light on the lives of persons with disabilities. Assistance to persons with disabilities is one of the major pillars of AAR JAPAN’s overseas operations, and it has increasingly become one of the focus points of our relief effort for the Great East Japan Earthquake as well. Research conducted by NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and Mainichi Newspapers revealed that, in the coastal municipalities of the three prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima, the death rate among people who possess certificates for their physical, intellectual, or psychological disabilities was more than twice as much as that of all residents in those areas. I am not referring to countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, or Haiti, where we currently implement projects to assist persons with disabilities. It is what actually happened in Japan. On the one hand, the fact that such statistics based on disability certificates can be obtained may only be possible in developed countries with enhanced social welfare systems. On the other hand, bearing witness to the plight of persons with disabilities after the disaster up until now, it is almost unbelievable that this is the result of a disaster that took place in a developed country.
The second group of reports shed light on what happened behind the scenes of the nuclear power station accident in Fukushima. Asahi Shimbun, in its “Prometheus Trap” series, and NHK revealed that there was a significant delay in dissemination of information to the residents of areas like Iitate Village, where radiation levels were extremely high despite the fact that they were located outside of the evacuation warning zone. The notable lack of responsibility and action on the part of the government to ensure the safety of the people living in close proximity to the nuclear power station was extremely unsettling, and it placed the current state of Japan and its underlying principles under much scrutiny. We were reminded that it is not only in developing countries where the state fails to protect its own people, and that it is precisely why there are gaps and spaces that nongovernmental organizations like ourselves must take action to fill.

Since March 13th, 2011, when we dispatched our first emergency relief team, we have been engaging in a number of activities in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, including distribution of relief supplies to persons with disabilities living in welfare facilities or at home, repair of facilities for persons with disabilities or the elderly, reconstruction of welfare centers, delivery of portable generators to those whose lives depend on being able to run their artificial respirators during power outages, etc. We promise to continue our support for persons with disabilities and the elderly population living across the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Moreover, in Fukushima Prefecture, we have been distributing locally-procured household necessities such as pots and kotatsu tables to evacuees living in temporary and subsidized housing in and outside the prefecture. On April 1st of this year, we will establish our Fukushima Office in Soma City to carry on with our activities for those living in temporary housing. And of course, as in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, we will do our best with our efforts to assist persons with disabilities.

Also, we will continue to deal with the issue of radiation from the standpoint of a humanitarian aid organization. The accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station has proven to us that, once a nuclear accident occurs, the problem with nuclear technology as a weapon of mass destruction, and the problem with the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a power source have no major difference in terms of the potential damage it can cause. Furthermore, we have become aware now that such disasters can happen not only at places like Chernobyl or Fukushima, but anywhere with facilities handling nuclear energy. Nuclear disaster is indeed a humanitarian problem, just like the problems of landmines and unexploded ordinances that AAR JAPAN has been addressing in our overseas operations over the years. I believe that it is our duty to make an even greater effort to support the evacuees of this nuclear accident. Furthermore, as a Japanese humanitarian aid organization with relief experience in Fukushima, I also believe it is our duty to share our experiences with other humanitarian aid organizations working overseas.

AAR JAPAN has faced another significant and tragic event during this past year. On the evening of November 9th (local time), an earthquake struck the city of Van in eastern Turkey. Two of our staff members were in Van that night, and the hotel they were staying in collapsed from the force of the earthquake. Ms. Miyuki KONNAI and Mr. Atsushi MIYAZAKI were stationed in Van for an emergency relief operation in response to the massive earthquake that occurred on October 23rd. Ms. KONNAI was rescued with injuries that were not life-threatening, but Mr. MIYAZAKI unfortunately passed away.
What surprised us was the sheer number of messages received directly and indirectly from the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Ms. Sayako NOGIWA, the representative of our Tohoku Offices, received numerous messages of condolence from the people she visited in the disaster area. Likewise, we at the Tokyo Office received countless telephone calls, postcards, and letters from disaster survivors, representatives of prefectural and municipal offices with whom we had previously worked with, and those who have had to evacuate from their homes in Fukushima. They expressed their grief for Mr. MIYAZAKI’s death, and gave their sympathy for his family and for those of us who have known him. Their kindness and thoughtfulness, in spite of their own distress, brought me to tears.

One year has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and while the hope of recovery is seen with people who have taken new steps forward, there are still many others who are still living in the dark, in places that have not changed since a year ago or are in even worse conditions. In light of the situations of those living in such places, I cannot help but think how one year is not really a milestone for recovery at all.
That is why, along with our ongoing overseas operations, we are dedicated to continuing our support to the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake, starting with those living in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures. We will remain committed to the motto of “helping one another out whenever someone is in need.”
Once again, I would like to express my utmost gratitude for your help in making our activities possible. We hope that you will follow our efforts and continue to give us your kind support.

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan
Yukie OSA, President