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"

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.

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


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)