On March 11, 2011, an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale struck near the eastern coast of Japan. It was the fourth-largest earthquake ever recorded globally and created an enormous tsunami, causing massive destruction. CARE Japan does not normally work in the country, but has responded to the emergency, assisting over 1,000 people.
Around 15,000 people have been confirmed dead. 9,000 are still missing. Although the Japanese government is well equipped to deal with earthquakes and tsunamis, this has deeply affected the country.
After three months, over 100,000 people are still living in evacuation centers, typically in public buildings such as schools, community centers and temples.
Immediately after the disaster a convoy organised by CARE Japan drove to Kamaishi in Iwate, one of the worst-hit areas, with a delivery of toilet paper, water, face masks, sanitary tissues, biscuits, fruit and rice to give the local government coordinating the emergency response.
A CARE International emergency team was deployed to assist CARE Japan. They identified that housing, livelihoods, education, and the emotional trauma of such an event as major issues that need to be addressed.
A lot of people in the affected areas are elderly, many of them women. Many local government authority buildings were damaged and staff died in the tsunami, so response efforts have been hampered.
Key transport infrastructure has been restored, but over 65,000 households remain without running water.
The sheer power of the tsunami spared few houses. Around 470,000 households have to rebuild from scratch. It will take years for people to rebuild their lives and homes.
Insurance coverage remains uncertain. Earthquake insurance is available in Japan, but few people have it and coverage for tsunami-caused loss (the vast majority of damage being from the tsunami) is not clear.
Many survivors are worried about their future. Many are private business owners or workers. Some living in coastal communities depend on fishing, tourism, and other activities related to the sea. Boats, shops and equipment owned by local businesses have been wiped out.
The Japanese government will provide temporary shelters for people living in evacuation centers by the end of summer. But many of the survivors’ incomes have disappeared. They will have to start paying for food once they move in, whilst somehow saving money for when they have to leave in two years time.
Daily aftershocks of the earthquake continue. Uncertainty of the effectiveness of tsunami barriers that people believed protected them and the lingering threat of damaged nuclear power plants leaves everyone in the affected area anxious.
Despite close familial and community ties maintained by Japanese society, it is the economic reality that younger people migrate to more prosperous urban centers. Older people have been left isolated in this rural region.
CARE’s food distributions reached almost 2,000 people regularly. CARE provided hot and nutritiously balanced meals daily for disaster survivors in evacuation centers in Iwate. We distributed food: rice, soup stock, vegetables and soy sauce to survivors living in their homes in Miyako City. In total, CARE has provided nearly 37,000 hot meals.
Almost 8,000 people in evacuation centers were given essentials such as plates and bowls, sanitary items, towels, soap, shampoo, mattresses, sheets, mosquito coils and insect repellent. In June, CARE plans to distribute summer blankets, boats and generators.
Around 1,300 people, mostly elderly, were supported with psycho-social activities to re-establish community connections and help overcome trauma.
Medium and long-term response
As the people of Japan move forward with rebuilding what was lost CARE continues to work with the survivors to help them recover.