Leave no one behind - AAR JAPAN’s Relief Activities

AAR JAPAN initiated its Tohoku aid and relief activities on the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, with two new offices opening in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and Morioka (Iwate Prefecture). As of April 25th, 57 people have been dispatched as members of our Emergency Relief Teams.

AAR JAPAN has been delivering relief supplies such as food, water, fuel, daily necessities and electrical appliances to facilities for persons with disabilities, senior care centers, hard-to-reach evacuation centers, and isolated islands in four prefectures, including Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima and Yamagata. We have also started preparing soup kitchens, providing traveling clinics, supporting the operations of regular bus services, and aiding in the reconstruction of damaged facilities for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Sayako NOGIWA, Tohoku Office Representative, reports on AAR JAPAN’s relief activities.

Coordinating to Support the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities

I have experienced emergency relief activities after massive natural disasters such as the Myanmar Cyclone, the Sumatra Earthquake, and the Pakistan Flood, but the damage inflicted by the Great East Japan Earthquake is the most extensive I have ever seen. Time and again I have been at a loss for words, overwhelmed by the power and brutality that has completely destroyed so many people’s lives.

AAR JAPAN has learned from its overseas experience that the elderly and persons with disabilities are easily forgotten in times of crisis, and we focus our efforts on these groups when undertaking aid activities. Persons with disabilities and elderly people often have difficulty in moving or need special assistance in their daily lives, making it hard to adjust to living with others at evacuation centers. As a result, they often take shelter in facilities that are not officially identified as evacuation centers, and do not get enough support.

Immediately after the earthquake, AAR JAPAN went to the disaster zone and compiled a list of facilities in the affected areas based on lists provided by the Miyagi Prefectural Office, the Iwate Prefectural Office, the Social Welfare Council, and network groups for persons with disabilities. With telephone lines often going dead, we relied on the list to visit the various facilities one-by-one, loaded with as many supplies as our cars could carry, including food, fuel and daily necessities. We confirmed the safety of the people staying in each location, distributed supplies, and inquired about their needs. We would then return with any requested supplies as early as the next day. Whenever we receive requests for such things as fuel or water, AAR JAPAN provides the supplies directly on a case-by-case basis.

May 5th – AAR JAPAN delivers food to the Yamada Kyosei workshop. In the center is Shuya FUKUDA of AAR JAPAN. (Iwate Prefecture)

Working to Improve Coordination Meetings

When undertaking overseas emergency relief activities, coordination and communication meetings called “cluster meetings” are held regularly, with participants including United Nations agencies, international and local NGOs, and other groups engaged in relief activities. These meetings are very effective for avoiding duplication and bridging any gaps in support efforts.

AAR JAPAN has been working to strengthen the function of these meetings by calling for active involvement from aid-related groups in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures. In these meetings, each group reports on the previous week’s activities, and when we learn that some facilities lack supplies, AAR JAPAN offers to deliver them, including the task in our schedule from the following day.

April 7th – An information exchange meeting was held with 70 representatives of groups engaged in supporting survivors with disabilities in Miyagi Prefecture. To the left at the back are Mr. Hiroshi UENO, Director of AAR JAPAN, and Ms. Sayako NOGIWA, Tohoku Office Representative. (Photo provided by Japan Disability Forum)

Leave no one Behind
In addition to strengthening coordination with related aid groups and providing support focused on persons with disabilities and the elderly, AAR JAPAN’s aid activities are characterized by the diversity of its supplies and speed of its distribution. While food, daily necessities and fuel remain our key supplies, we have also delivered computers, printers, rice cookers, refrigerators, fresh vegetables, artificial respirators and more, all to match survivors’ particular needs. We deliver supplies at the earliest the next day, and in most cases within 3 days of receiving a request.

We will also strengthen our efforts to support survivors in their homes. It is said that half of the disaster survivors are staying in their homes, but even prefectural offices have not yet grasped the real situation. Many evacuees are now without an income, and coupled with the slow recovery of infrastructure, many now lead difficult lives without enough food. AAR JAPAN has been engaging in aid activities with the aim that no-one will ever lack sufficient support.

AAR JAPAN will continue to support survivors who are struggling to get by, with an eye on both mid- and long-term solutions.

Sayako NOGIWA (Tohoku Office Representative)
AAR JAPAN Senior Program Coordinator
Largely responsible for AAR JAPAN's projects in Myanmar and other parts of Asia.
Involved in a number of emergency relief operations in the past, including the Myanmar Cyclone in 2008, the Sumatra Earthquake in 2009, and the Pakistan Flood in 2010. 
(34 years old, born in Tokyo.)