4.11.2017

The Kumamoto Earthquake, One Year Later: Applying Lessons from the Disaster in Providing Aid

It has been nearly a year since the Kumamoto Earthquakes. During the earthquakes, the town of Mashiki and the village of Nishihara experienced two magnitude 7 earthquakes, and in the village of Minamiaso, the Aso-bridge collapsed due to a large-scale landslide. As of November 30th of last year, 4,165 additional earthquakes, which could be felt, had been recorded. The number of casualties, including 150 earthquake-related deaths, rose to 205 (Kumamoto Prefecture Crisis Management Disaster Prevention Division Announcement, March 3rd, report). Moreover, at its peak there were over 180,000 evacuees and 855 evacuation centers. Since the disaster, AAR Japan has been distributing meals and basic necessities and up to now has been providing aid to a social welfare facilities for people with disabilities and to those in temporary residences.

Rebuilding a Vital Place in the Village

During this earthquake, there were supply and staff shortages at the evacuation centers that were established to accommodate those who require special care, such as those with disabilities and the elderly. In addition, temporary residences had not been designed to be wheelchair accessible. It made us recognize again how easy it is for people with disabilities and the elderly to be put into difficult situations in times of disaster. Because of this, AAR Japan has focused on providing aid to people with disabilities, by supporting local organizations which work with people with disabilities and who are leading recovery efforts in  the region.

In Nishihara Village, 60% of the houses were completely or partially destroyed. Nishihara Tanpopo (Dandelion) House, a NPO near the village office, is the only social welfare facilities of its kind where people with disabilities go to process crops and prepare and sell bentos (lunch box) and snacks. During the day, it is a cafeteria filled with locals, and is a place where those facing economic hardships can enjoy a meal with others whilst lending a hand to the center.  It has become a central entity, a vital place in the village.
Even after the earthquake, the house has become an evacuation center for those disabled persons and staff who frequented, in addition to acting as a point from which supplies and meals could be distributed to nearby regions.
Tanpopo House’s cafeteria has a rich menu, including ramen and curry. (Jun.24th,2016)

I received support for the first time –The reality of Afghan Returnees

After July of last year, The Pakistan government strengthened its  repatriation policy of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and many people were forced to return to their home country. Among them, about 310,000 are referred to as “Non-registered returnees”. Because they were living without refugee registration in Pakistan, they could not get a certification from the United Nations for returning. Most of them have not received any support so far. Anisa Guru (age 33), a non-registered returnee, now lives with her six children in Nangahar Province, eastern Afghanistan. We talked to her about her living conditions.

"We have not received any support so far"

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When I was eight years old, Afghanistan was in the midst of civil war from the then Mujahideen administration. So, our family evacuated to Pakistan. We lived peacefully after arriving in Peshawar, Pakistan. I lived with my family and got married when I was 16 years old. My husband could not read or write, so he worked selling fruit to support our family. The income was meagre but I was happy. I believed that life would get better once our children were born, grown and educated.
    I have six children. My eldest daughter is 16 years old, my eldest son is 14 years old, my second daughter 11 years old, my second son 8 years old and my third and fourth sons are six years old. My second daughter was born with a disability in one leg. She needed surgery, but we could not afford it. Considering her future, we borrowed money from relatives to pay for the surgery. However, there is still a disability on her leg. Then, a more tragic event befell our family. One day three years ago, a suicide bombing occurred in Sadel, Peshawar where we lived. My husband was involved in it and was killed. I fell over in shock on the spot. I have never had a more shocking and sad incident in my life to date. I did not have the knowledge to live or job. I did not know how to feed my six children. I asked my husband’s brother if he could provide just a place to live and he lent me 7000 yen to pay the rent. However, being a day labor, he could not afford to lend money. After a few months, he said to me that he could not pay the rent.  
 I thought that I had to live by myself somehow. I knocked on the doors of nearby houses, asking “Do you need help cleaning?” but nobody would hire me. The children would come to me and say “We are starving”. We only had a little bit of money at that time.
I visited nearby houses for work as hard as I could. Then a family asked, “Will you wash
 our laundry?” I answered immediately,” I will.” That was my first job. I could not earn enough money to let my children go to school, but they never got hungry anymore. I strongly remember feeling happy at that time since I was able to at least provide for my family by myself. The families that knew my situation gave me their kids’ old clothes, some extra food, and tips. My family was not able to live without them. That was my life in Pakistan.
    However, our life in Pakistan did not continue for long. The Pakistan government strengthened its policy of repatriating Afghan refugees. We believed that not only would the Pakistan police force us off there, but they would use violence because we were not registered refugees. That is why we decided to leave Pakistan.
Anisa(right) purchasing by coupons that AAR Japan distributed(Apr. 3rd, 2017)

    We live in Jalalabad, Nangahar Province with other families who cannot pay the full rent by themselves. I have to work for the rent nonetheless. It is completely different from Pakistan here. In Pakistan, I could walk out and work, but here it is too dangerous to do so. If anything happens to me, who will protect the children? We had not been able to receive any assistance from anyone. In order to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan, it is necessary to cross the border of Talkham in the Nangahar Province. Aid was distributed there. However, we could not receive it since our family was not registered as refugees. The Afghanistan government did not support us at all even when I asked for help at the refugee・returnee management office numerous times. These $200 coupons and solar panels that I have received from AAR Japan is the first bit of support I’ve received. With this, I can let my children eat thanks to this support. I hope that these kinds of problems disappear and I am able to live safely.

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Anisa's brothers-in-law carried goods on truck bed(Apr.3rd, 2017)
Anisa went back home on truck bed with her brothers-in-law because they have a custom which women hardly walk out alone(Apr.3rd, 2017)

AAR will continue to support persons with disabilities, women like Anisa, are and others who have yet to receive any support. We are grateful for your continued co-operation and kind emergency donations.


English editing by Mr. Joseph Scutella

4.03.2017

Afghanistan: Distribution of daily necessities to afghan returnees continues

The Pakistani government strengthened its repatriation policy towards Afghan refugees, with more than 600,000 people forcibly returned from last year. According to a survey that AAR Japan conducted on 3,800 households in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, from the end of February to March more than half of respondents were in need without any aid. AAR is distributing emergency relief supplies to these people.

To ensure that each person has what they really need 

The local government ordered the Babo Gulu’s family to leave their house immediately after the repatriation policy of the Pakistan government was strengthened last year. They were not given any time to prepare. They scraped the cost to return home somehow by selling household goods, and managed to get to Afghanistan half a year ago. They said that they have hardly any money.

In our interview with 3,800 households, we found that the returnees face difficulties in many areas such as where to live, food, education, medical care and so on. We decided to hand out relief supplies to 580 households, especially to persons with disabilities and families where the woman is the head of the household and who have not received any assistance. Tickets for solar panel sets (solar panel, charger, lamp, etc.) were distributed to all these households. As for the others supplies, the items that they already have differed depending on the household, so we distributed coupons so that they can purchase what they need by themselves.
The AAR Staff interviewing from Afghan refugees.(c)(March 29th, 2017)

Sudan: April 4th, International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance, Overcoming injuries related to landmines

Even after the large scale civil war between south and north Sudan, conflicts continue especially in areas such as Western Darfur. Many landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs) are still left in many areas, resulting in accidents every year. In 2015 alone, 33 people were killed and 71 were injured in various parts of the country. Although the government started taking measures against landmine activity in earnest, it had to suspend its assistance of landmine victims in 2012 due to budgetary constraints and a need to focus on the clearance of mines/UXOs.

AAR Japan has been working on mine risk education to protect people from the dangers of mines and UXOs. Since July of last year, it has conducted support activities to assist victims in Kassala in east Sudan, which is one of the most severely affected regions of mines and UXOs. Support is largely divided into three groups; (1) Providing artificial legs, tricycles, and rehabilitation. (2) Assistance of mine victims to restore their previous lives in terms of their earnings and relationship with the community. (3) Drawing up national strategies to assist mine victims.

At present, there are no reliable statistics as to how many victims there are in Sudan. When starting our assistance, we collected information on 396 people by frequently visiting the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Disabled People Organization, and the Mine Action Center. Then, based on a variety of criterion, such as an aptitude to receive rehabilitation and past history of assistance, we selected 35 people with a particular focus on those affected by landmine activity.

Pleasant and Proud Life with Artificial Legs, Carefree Outing on a Tricycle

Artificial legs and tricycles were provided through the National Authority of Prosthetics and Orthotics in Kassala and physical therapists were employed and dispatched by AAR, as there were no qualified persons at the Center. Khalid Ahmed Osman (age 41, left in the picture), a former truck driver, is one of the five receivers of artificial legs. When driving his truck two years ago, it passed over an anti-vehicle landmine. His life was saved but he had to have his left leg amputated. Since then he had to walk on crutches, and even when he went to the market, he couldn’t work properly. As a result, he was regarded as an impediment and was heckled by other people, which was very difficult for him to bear. When I first met him, he was worried what other people would think of him, and looked timid and nervous as if someone was going to slander him. But when I met him three months later, he was accustomed to using his new artificial leg and was walking steadily. What impressed me most was that he had restored his confidence and he had a cheerful and proud expression on his face.
Khalid Ahmed Osman (left) is getting a mold made for his artificial leg. When I met him three months later, his facial expression was quite different (Kassala State, Sudan; following pictures were all taken at Kassala, December 13th, 2016)


3.27.2017

Haiti: Ending seven years of relief efforts for those affected and persons with disabilities

As of January 2017, AAR Japan has concluded all of its relief activities in Haiti.
In January 2010, Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic magnitude 7 earthquake. In response, AAR dispatched an emergency assistance team. AAR established an office in the capital Port-au-Prince, delivering food supplies and engaging in various projects, such as the rebuilding of child care facilities and facilities for persons with disabilities (PWDs), promotional activities for hygiene, and inclusive education. 
In April 2016, seven years after the quake, the office in Port-au-Price was closed, but our work with inclusive education continued in collaboration with local organizations. Then in October 2016, Hurricane Mathew caused a tremendous amount of damage to the country, prompting AAR Japan to take action and dispatch its emergency assistance team once again to support those who were affected. As of January 2017, all of the organization’s work with promoting inclusive education and supporting victims of Hurricane Mathew were completed and thus our activities in Haiti had come to an end. The following is a report of AAR’s activities and its results which were made possible by your support.

1. Assistance for those affected by the catastrophic earthquake (January-June, 2010) 

On January 12th, 2010 (local time), a strong magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Republic of Haiti.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti had long been considered the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. As it turned out, the impact was devastating as a result of various combining factors; the earthquake having directly struck the highly populated capital, the sheer scale of the earthquake itself, and a fragile social structure due to the country’s volatile political situation. In light of this situation, AAR sent an emergency assistance team to the ground on January 25th, consisting of 4 staff members from our Tokyo Office, which distributed emergency relief packages, waterproof sheets and other aid items to 13,400 households overall (approx. 67,000 persons) by April 2010.
“I have been waiting for water and food”. Go IGARASHI (right), AAR, hands food and daily necessities package to a woman affected by the disaster (February 4th, 2010)

3.08.2017

No Help From Anywhere – Afghan Returnees in Deplorable Conditions

Today over 2 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. Since last July, the government of Pakistan has toughened its policy to repatriate Afghan refugees. As a result, 630,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan last year. Additional 500,000 refugees are estimated to join them in March following the winter pause. To prepare for emergency relief, AAR Japan conducted a preliminary assessment to examine the living conditions of these Afghan returnees who are stranded in in Nangarhar Province, which makes an entry point along the eastern border. The province currently hosts over 140,000 Afghan returnees who are taking temporary refuge. Through the assessment we discovered these “returnees” have no home to return to. This report details the returnees’ situations observed by the assessment team in the field.

Nowhere to Go—Returnees Shivering in Tents

From February 20th to March 4th AAR’s assessment team interviewed 3,815 households, in 10 districts in Nangarhar province most populated by the. Half of those interviewed lived under tents near the river or on a piece of land owned by someone else because they have nowhere else to stay. The Pakistani government is forcefully kicking Afghan refugees but the Afghan government has no designated camps for resettling the returnees. Nonetheless, the Afghan government does not allow NGOs to provide shelters these returnees. Under these circumstances, all returnees have to bear individual responsibilities to find a place to live. This is nearly impossible simply because they are poor and their hometown is under political instability.

One woman who lives in a tent shared her story with tears in her eyes. “My husband had already died, so I returned to Afghanistan with my children. I had to sell some of the belongings to pay for food and a place to put up a tent, but it cannot withstand the rain and wind. Some children died from the cold. We need a proper house. Children cannot go to school but they work on the street or in a brick factory. These kinds of jobs are too hard for children. Many NGOs are saying that they will help us, but it’s the only handful who receive any help. We came back to our country with hope. But there is no hope here.”

Children can’t go to school because of financial burdens, coupled with the language barrier. There are multiple languages spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of which are shared across the border.  However, most of the children cannot speak languages spoken in Afghanistan because they were born and raised in Pakistan. Education will be a major issue for these returnee children in the coming years.
Children living in a tent. A girl in the middle holds up a registration document issued by the government of Afghanistan (March 2nd, 2017)


3.03.2017

The Great East Japan Earthquake: Our Fadeless Memories and Lost Home

Connecting People

Nearly 6 years after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, approximately 13 million still live in post-disaster temporary housing facilities (Reconstruction Agency, January 2017). In 2016, AAR Japan (Association for Aid and Relief) held 64 events in its continuous effort to encourage disaster victims to socialize, maintain their health and relieve stress. 1,201 people participated in activities that involved massage and counseling, craft workshop, lunch events and others.

In Iwate, AAR is continuing its effort in Otsuchi, a town which was severely damaged as the tsunami had washed away the entire town. Six years after the disaster, more than half its population are forced to live in temporary housing. While public housing facilities are being completed in some areas, progress has been slow in the devastated areas. These areas have only finished developing plans for banking work and making foundations on higher ground, allowing no evacuees from these areas to leave the temporary houses and return home for the next 2 years.

Today, many still struggle with their memories of their tsunami experience. A woman in her 80s said, "I was on the second floor of my house when I saw my elderly neighbor screaming for help while the tsunami took her. She looked at me, but I could not do anything to save her. While her daughters have decided to return to their family's renovated house, she has chosen to wait for the public housing to be completed in 2 years, never to be in a place that can remind her of the experience of the disaster. Another woman told us, "I was able to move from temporary housing to public housing, but living alone can feel very isolating and I still have sleepless nights because of my experience with the tsunami."
Temporary housing resident and her handmade princess dolls at a craft workshop, Minami-Soma Koike Harahata Daini temporary housing (February 2nd, 2017)


2.27.2017

The Great East Japan Earthquake: Supporting hand-made goods made by PWDs

Nearly 6 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 2011. Immediately following the events of the disaster, AAR Japan implemented emergency relief efforts, and at present continues to offer a range of support to those affected persons, including children who suffer from radiation poisoning following the nuclear accident, PWDs, and the elderly who currently reside in temporary housing.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Aeon 1% Club Foundation, we have managed to put in place a total of 107 facilities aimed at supporting the employment of PWDs throughout the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. The funds raised from the foundation from Aeon customers were matched by Aeon and donated to AAR Japan. Here is just one of the activities that were made possible thanks to these fundraising efforts.

A place to showcase products made by PWDs

On November 19th and 20th in the south branch Aeon mall in Iwate prefecture, The Council of Social Welfare in Iwate Prefecture, The Employment Support Office for People with Disabilities along with the order center of products made by people with disabilities held the “Nice Heart Bazaar in Iwate” event. This event has been held every year since 2010, where PWDs from Iwate sell a variety of food that they have made. This year, 33 stalls and booths were set up.

As a joint sponsor, AAR Japan offered goods that could be seen on display on shelves and in glass cases. On this occasion, more than 800 people visited the bazaar and over the 2 days the event was held 700,000 yen (approx. $6300USD) was made in sales. Customers who came to the stores gave their impressions, saying “I always look forward to this event” and “They look so good, and the taste is great”. This was truly a great chance to show the appeal of products made by PWDs.
A picture taken from the “Nice Heart Bazaar in Iwate”(November, 2016)


2.03.2017

Pakistan: Shaping Girls' Education Environment

In Kyhber Pakhtunkhwa, a state in north western Pakistan, a great number of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan are residing. However, without even basic infrastructure such as a clean water system, both refugees and local residents are forced to live a difficult way of life. In order to deliver a brighter future for the children who will one day inherit the country, AAR Japan, since 2011, has been working to improve primary schools by adding more classrooms and sanitation facilities including toilets and washrooms. At present, AAR Japan continues to provide assistance to young girls commuting to and from school in Haripur district, which holds 3 refugee camps and is said to have around 84,000 refugees. The schools within the refugee camps, as well as the Pakistani schools that are accepting refugees, are our primary focus.
Children from one of the schools at the refugee camps(Nov.30th,2016)

1.23.2017

Myanmar:For the Persons with Disabilities to live with Reassurance

What the Civil War Left Behind

The state of Karen in Myanmar, sharing a border with Thailand, is a region of beautiful nature and rich traditional culture. However, during the 60 years until when the cease-fire agreement was signed in 2012, repeated outbreaks of war continually occurred between the Burmese government and the Karen armed forces. Because of this, then the longest civil war in the world, the establishment of social welfare and education systems was delayed, resulting in a lack of public assistance available to persons with disabilities including those who were victimized by landmine accidents. Their opportunities to receive an education and participate in society are limited and many live an unstable and secluded lifestyle.
In response, in September 2016 AAR Japan, in cooperation with the Social Welfare Department of Karen state, commenced support activities for persons with disabilities in 15 villages to assist them in living independently with peace of mind.

A Day in the Life of a Person with a Disability

What is the day in the life of a person with a disability in this village look like? And what kind of problems do they face? Saw Hla Htoo (age 23) lost sight in his left eye when he was three due to illness, and lost sight in his right eye when he was 18, due to injury. He has never studied at school since it is far away from his house and he cannot travel there safely. Since he cannot find a job, he is helping out his family by carrying water and doing simple chores, but he spends most of his time at home.
Saw Hla Htoo can hardly see out of both of his eyes, and he cannot go outside (December 5th, 2016)