The Western Japan Flood: One Year On Relief operations for those left behind

 It has been almost one year since the Western Japan Flood caused serious destruction and extensive damage across the whole of Japan; stretching from Hokkaido to Okinawa. According to an official report issued by the Cabinet Office on 9 January 2019, the flooding resulted in a total of 245 dead and missing, and the partial or complete destruction of as many as 18,100 houses and buildings.

Locals unloading a container truck which was swept away by the torrential rain. (Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture)

Beginning on July 9th, 2018, the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) has been providing emergency relief services in Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime Prefectures; all of which suffered heavy damage and serious destruction in the wake of the Western Japan Flood. In addition to running an emergency soup kitchen throughout July and August at Nima Elementary School, a designated local shelter facility in Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture, AAR Japan distributed relief supplies to those in need in the three prefectures mentioned above and investigated the ongoing conditions faced by the affected locals in each area. From September, based upon the results of the investigation, AAR Japan began providing targeted relief efforts to restore local welfare facilities.  This special report by Takumi TAKAGI outlines the extent of AAR Japan’s relief activities to date, and also AAR Japan’s specific prospects and plans for the future.

Nima Elementary School, a designated shelter facility in Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture. (July 14th, 2018)

Running an emergency soup kitchen in record-breaking temperatures

At the request of Kurashiki City, AAR Japan and the NPO Peace Project came together and set up an emergency soup kitchen serving meals for people affected by the flooding and evacuated to the gymnasium of Nima Elementary School. In the period between July 9th, 2018 to the end of August, AAR Japan and NPO Peace Project provided a total of 10,670 meals and had as many as 20 volunteers.
Temperatures across the country reached all-time highs during the summer of 2018; to the extent that the record-breaking heat was officially classified by the Japan Meteorological Agency as a disaster.
AAR Japan and NPO Peace Project, through its emergency soup kitchen, provided relief to local residents by serving cooling food, such as thin noodles (in Japanese, somen) and various other nourishing meals. Also through the emergency soup kitchen, AAR Japan and NPO Peace Project created an opportunity for evacuated locals to promote communication among themselves and help them break the ice and strike up conversations with one another.
In addition to this, AAR Japan hosted several kinds of events for affected locals, including sports and entertainment, in an attempt to provide welcome distraction and to help them momentarily forget their daily stresses that have arisen because of the Western Japan Flood.

Shinichiro Ohara (left) ran the soup kitchen at the designated shelter, the Nima Elementary School in Okayama Prefecture. (July 14th, 2018)

Asking the right questions to ensure effective relief is provided to those in most need

AAR Japan gives high priority to the welfare of individuals with disabilities during times of disaster, as they are all too easily left out of the scope of regular relief operations. In the case of the Western Japan Flood, AAR Japan, after arriving at the site of the disaster, immediately visited NPO organizations and centers focused on individuals with disabilities in the affected area. AAR Japan also visited the emergency headquarters of the disaster and the welfare-related offices of the affected municipalities to confirm the extent of the damage caused by the flooding to local welfare facilities. Following that, AAR Japan called 24 facilities across the three prefectures individually, to survey their level of safety and to determine their immediate needs. This resulted in the dispensation of a total of 60 items of emergency necessity to a gross number of 574 affected people across 10 welfare facilities for individuals with disabilities, as well as designated shelters which had been left out of helping hands. The 60 items of emergency materials included beverages, food, over-the-counter drugs, clothes, office supplies, electric appliances, accommodation goods, cleaning tools and items needed for collecting flood-damage waste, such as vinyl sheets and mattresses.
Staffers of the welfare facilities to which we provided aid materials offered warm words of gratitude, “When we had lost everything and been at a loss what to do to cope with the situation, AAR Japan immediately gave us emergency relief materials that enabled us to get out of our terrible predicament… This devastating disaster deprived us of the core of our line of work, but thanks to the aid by AAR Japan, we have been able to cherish a hope of resuming our operations and support for people with disabilities.”

Takumi TAKAGI of AAR Japan (right) listens to the story of representative director Shinji TADA of NPO Okayama Mind ‘Kokoro’ (left). (July 11th, 2018)

Mai KAMATA of AAR Japan (left) hands relief supplies, such as drawing paper and crayons for the impaired, to a staffer of NPO ‘Ayumu’.

 Restored welfare facilities brings fast relief and hope

One of the key goals of AAR Japan’s aid programs was to help local welfare facilities resume their daily activities as soon as possible. When welfare facilities are able to reopen at a relatively early stage after a natural disaster, affected individuals with disabilities are able to secure a safe place to stay and continue to receive the necessary care they require every day; while family members can concentrate on other domestic concerns, such as disaster clean up and restoration of their daily lives. Also, with the aid of AAR Japan, the local welfare facilities themselves can increase the speed of getting back on track and back up to full strength, which will help them to prevent a drop in the services offered to those they care for or any lay-off of staff members.
Out of the 24 facilities that AAR Japan contacted, 12 facilities were determined as needing immediate relief support. They were provided at the earliest possible opportunity with such things as electric appliances and office supplies, including personal computers and also shuttle vehicles, which are necessary for the renovation of their buildings and the resumption of their daily activities.

Looking forward to better days

In many cases the demolition of citizens’ homes, as well as their reconstruction using public funds, results in a shortage of not only human capital available for construction but also materials needed for rebuilding. This often leads to the unfortunate delay to the renovation and the restoration of local welfare facilities. We have found many welfare facilities managing to continue their daily welfare activities in their buildings which survived the disaster while utilizing a variety of avenues of assistance from the public and private sectors, and have been gradually building back up to their former operational level. As well as support for renovation and reconstruction of local welfare facilities, AAR Japan has been supporting capacity building initiatives to help promote the development of local NGOs, beyond their pre-disaster capabilities, into entities that are even more engaging toward the community. One example of this is how AAR Japan prepared opportunities for local NGOs to meet and discuss how children with disabilities can lead a carefree and leisurely life among other residents of the local community. We also occasionally dispense reports of what was discussed to administrative entities for their information.
We have been currently promoting our initiative to compile a booklet, based on AAR Japan’s collective experience, on how to best support people with disabilities at the scene of disasters.

AAR Japan’s activities so far have been able to be realized thanks to your gracious and kind donations.  We would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all of you here again and also would like to ask you to continue to afford us your generous and benevolent support into the future.


   Takumi TAKAGI, AAR Japan Tokyo Head Office
TAKAGI has been in charge of emergency assistance and domestic operations at the Head Office of AAR Japan since April 2014. After graduating from university, TAKAGI pursued a number of varied interests, including music activities, working in the private sector and within the education sector as a college staff member. TAKAGI’s home town is in Saitama Prefecture.

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Motoko Komai
English editing by Mr. Peter Bungate

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.