Six Months Since 3.11, A Decade Since 9/11―An Address from AAR JAPAN Chairperson of the Board, Yukie OSA

Half a year has passed since March 11th, 2011. As of the 10th of September, a total of 15,781 people are confirmed dead, and police continue to search for the 4,086 who remain missing. From the bottom of my heart, I pray for the souls of those who so suddenly lost their lives, and express my deepest condolences to their bereaved families.

The earthquake and tsunami have deprived countless people of their homes and property, their means of livelihood, and above all, the basic security of their day-to-day lives. In Fukushima Prefecture, there are people who, in the aftermath of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, have been forced to leave their places of birth behind, seeking refuge in other municipalities. To all the people who have suffered from this calamity, I once again offer my heartfelt sympathy.

Since the disaster struck, we at the Association for Aid and Relief JAPAN (AAR JAPAN) have received contributions and financial support in excess of 18 million yen, as well as materials and services from corporations, civil organizations, financial associations, and individual supporters both inside and outside Japan. The details of our activities have been reported on our homepage and in newsletters. I would like to take this opportunity to renew my sincere gratitude for all the assistance we have received, and I pledge to make the best possible use of the contributions entrusted to us for the benefit of the victims of this disaster.

AAR JAPAN is an NGO founded on the principle of international cooperation, formed at the initiative of former President Yukika Sohma (1912-2008), who, at the inception of an Indo-Chinese refugee crisis in 1979, called for extending the Japanese tradition epitomized in the adage, “When in need, all are equals”, to even strangers overseas, thereby demonstrating Japan’s goodwill to the world. AAR JAPAN is committed to non-sectarianism and humanitarianism—in other words, a conviction that assistance should be extended to the most vulnerable and to those most severely distressed, regardless of political, ideological, or religious beliefs, and without any discrimination due to nationality, race, or ethnicity. Since its founding, AAR JAPAN has implemented emergency assistance, engaged in mine action, supported persons with disabilities, and worked to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in over fifty-five countries and regions across the world.

In 1999, at the 20th anniversary of AAR JAPAN’s establishment, founder Sohma reflected, “It is wonderful that an organization such as AAR JAPAN, which has no regular backing whatsoever, with only the goal of helping overseas refugees, has been able to sustain its activities for as long as twenty years without being disbanded. This is not to be taken as a sign that an unfortunate state has persisted in the world, in which there continues to be a need for an organization such as AAR JAPAN. Rather, the continued viability of AAR JAPAN, existing as it does without reliable backing, and only for the purpose of helping refugees, is a manifestation of the reality that the Japanese people are not indifferent to the suffering of the world’s refugees. In other words, AAR JAPAN is an expression of the Japanese people’s warm-heartedness.”

Standing here, half a year after March 11th, looking back at six months over which AAR JAPAN’s team of 100 staff and volunteers have been carrying out relief efforts both in Tokyo and in the field, we see the same principles embraced by supporters across Japan—including in the disaster zone itself—as well as around the world. I would once again like to express our appreciation for the support and understanding we have received, which we hope will enable us to continue our relief and reconstruction efforts for at least two more years as we work to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of all the people suffering as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

AAR JAPAN is an organization that seeks to offer unconditional support for refugees and displaced persons, carry out mine action, and offer assistance to persons with disabilities, in addition to engaging in relief efforts in developing nations where local governments do not have the ability to protect or care for their own citizens in the wake of conflict or disaster.  It is hard for us to believe that here in Japan we could confront such a scene of misery and suffering as we have seen in Tohoku. We are shocked to see the Japanese government unable to provide sufficient assistance to the affected people, particularly our most vulnerable citizens such as persons with disabilities and the elderly. We, as a humanitarian organization, feel an acute sense of frustration. Yet, on the other hand, we find satisfaction in being able to utilize in Japan the experience and methods of operation acquired through our responses to large-scale natural disasters and emergency assistance in places of conflict abroad. We also believe that it is the mission of AAR JAPAN, as an international NGO born in Japan, to mobilize such experience and practices for the purpose of national reconstruction.

We engaged in local relief efforts at the time of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995, and again in Niigata following the quake of 2004. However, organizing efforts on the scale needed to care for the whole of the three prefectures most affected by the March 11th disaster has been a completely new experience for us. Though well-versed in activities overseas, we had no prior experience in the Tohoku area. As a result, we had to listen and learn from the requests, complaints, and concerns we heard every day. Thanks to the advice and cooperation we have received, including from those living in temporary shelters who continue to care about the people around them, we have been able to sustain our efforts while meeting with words of appreciation from those whom we have helped. We are also indebted to the firefighters and volunteers who spare no effort in performing their duties to the limits of their capabilities, as well as to the mayors of cities, towns and villages, the staff of local self-governing bodies, the officials and workers in charge of facilities for persons with disabilities, and coordinators at temporary shelters. We express our sincere appreciation to all of them for enabling us to work with and learn from them in the midst of this calamity.

AAR JAPAN feels a heavy sense of responsibility for the extensive impact of the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, not only in Fukushima Prefecture, but also throughout the Tohoku and Kanto regions. The electricity generated there was supplied not to the Tohoku area, but to Tokyo and other parts of Kanto. In other words, it is we ourselves who have lived off the benefits of the electricity generated in Fukushima, which has now resulted in a disaster comparable only to Chernobyl.

In addition to our efforts centered around assistance to persons with disabilities in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, with financial support from Japan Platform and in collaboration with ADRA Japan, AAR JAPAN is presently providing daily necessities for the 35,000 families residing in temporary shelters or rented houses within Fukushima Prefecture. AAR JAPAN’s target beneficiaries are the 13 cities, towns, and villages located in the Hamadori (Coastal Road) and Nakadori (Central Road) areas, including Soma City, Minami-Soma City, and Iitate Village. Despite being an NGO born in the only nation in the world to have suffered first-hand the horrors of atomic bombing, we are still groping to find the way forward now that we are faced with our first nuclear power accident, and we are still unsure as to what assistance we can provide beyond the delivery of daily essentials. We intend to overcome any radiation fears and support economic and infrastructural recovery by carefully heeding the wishes of the disaster-affected people and their local governments.

I teach in a university, specializing in a field called “Human Security”. It was very embarrassing for me to learn for the first time the reality that, despite periodic safety checks, many workers at the Dai-ichi plant had regularly been forced to expose themselves to radiation even before the accident. Who is the “human” in the concept of “Human Security”? Believing in the premise that human security within Japan was already fully guaranteed, I had focused my attention only on human security for people in regions overseas where there existed no functioning government or no government of any kind. Yet the safety of the nuclear plant workers is precisely an issue of human security. I believe that if the security of nuclear plant workers had been recognized by industries, labor unions and us, the end users of electricity, and if consequently a system to protect their security had been properly put in place, an accident of this kind might not have occurred.

A life that capitalizes on the sacrifices of others may be possible for a brief period of time, but it is not viable in the long term. Happiness based on someone else’s sacrifice cannot make anyone truly happy. This is the thought that dwells on my mind at the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as I speak with my Afghan colleagues currently visiting Japan for program coordination consultation.

Guaranteeing human security for all of humanity may turn out to be an unrealistic goal. I would venture to suggest, however, that human security can be assured only when we keep in mind and aim for the realization of happiness and security not merely for the Japanese people, but for all people the world over—and in the same way, not merely for the people of developing nations, but also for all the people of Japan.

The Sphere Project sets the minimum standard for assistance in the arena of emergency relief through international cooperation. In an industrialized nation such as Japan, though stricken by disaster, such standards should be met quickly once the confusion of the immediate post-disaster period passes. However, in many areas the Sphere Project standards remain unmet, including minimum calorie intake, living space, and the environment for women. To address these shortfalls, AAR JAPAN intends to draw upon the experience and knowhow gained in our many years as an NGO engaged in international cooperation.

Among our staff, there are those who, coming from the disaster-hit area, have had their homes completely destroyed, losing as a result any chance to engage in support endeavors overseas. On behalf of those colleagues, as well as on behalf of all the victims of the disaster, we will redouble our efforts. As we mark the passage of six months since March 11th, 2011, and ten years since September 11th, 2001, I take this opportunity to reconfirm AAR JAPAN’s commitment to future efforts, and ask for sustained support from all of you.

The Sphere Project

Started in 1997 by a consortium of international NGOs and the international Red Cross/Red Crescent Society, the Sphere Project sets the minimum standards to be met through emergency humanitarian support in response to disasters. The Sphere Handbook outlines a charter for humanitarianism, including the minimum standards and basic indices in the main sectors of disaster assistance (water supply and sanitation, nutrition, food relief and food acquisition, shelter, and health services). These are regarded as the most reliable indices for use in the field when the international community, including UN agencies, carries out humanitarian assistance. The Sphere Handbook has been revised several times, the latest version being published in 2011.

Chairperson of the Board of AAR JAPAN, Yukie OSA
Born in Tokyo in 1963 and raised in Ibaraki.  She graduated from Department of Political Science, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University.  After working at a foreign bank for several years, she went to the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University and took Master of Political Science degree.  While working at a foreign company, she began working at AAR JAPAN as a volunteer member in 1990 and became a full-time staff in 1991.  She worked as a Resident Representative of the former Yugoslavian office, Managing Director/Deputy Secretary General, and Executive Director/Secretary General(2000-2003).  In those years, she engaged in emergency humanitarian assistance, landmine actions, and activities of the International Campaigns to Ban Landmines(ICBL) for the total demolition of landmines.  In 2004 she joined the doctoral program on “Human Security” at Graduate School of Art and Sciences, Tokyo University and received Ph.D degree in 2007.  In July 2008, she became the Chairperson of the Board of AAR JAPAN.  She is also the professor of the Graduate School of Social Design Studies, Rikkyo University since April 2009 and also a professor of the faculty of Sociology at Rikkyo University since April 2010. She is the author of the “Srebrenica-discussion about genocide”(Toshindo, 2009) and some other books.