Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Echoes of Devastation: Japan Four Months After The Quake

Sendai before and now. Via.

The recurrence last weekend of a powerful earthquake followed by a small tsunami in the same regions of Japan which were hit four months ago briefly brought Japan back into the news, although there was fortunately little damage and no reported injuries or deaths this time.

It was a reminder that the current situation in the tsunami zone remains a grim one for many. The slowness of the government’s provision of basic relief to those affected by the catastrophe has forced many locals in the affected areas to fend for themselves and roused private industries to take action.

Matters have not been helped by such occurrences as the resignation of Japan's disaster reconstruction minister within a week of his appointment (after his threats to withhold aid to boroughs which did not have good ideas for reconstruction) and the government’s difficulties implementing a program of stress tests for nuclear plants. With potentially decades remaining for the cleanup of nuclear materials within Fukushima alone, it is quite possible that we may see an increase in local citizen initiatives as a matter of pure necessity.

Fortunately, changes to the laws governing the tax status of Japan’s non-profit organizations (NPOs) are due after the flood of over 480,000 volunteers into the earthquake zone was met by a confused and often obstructive response from some local officials, many of whom were unprepared to accept help from outside official channels. Where the impetus from the Kobe earthquake of 1995 led to the first explosion in NPO numbers after new legislation was introduced in 1998, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami appears set to make Japan’s 80,000 or so civil society organizations more effective.

This cannot come soon enough for residents at the Shizugawa High School Evacuation Center in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture. Four months after the small fishing port of Minamisanriku was virtually wiped out, the survivors live in a 3,000-aquare-foot location housing 40 families with no running water. Supplied by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces with food and medicine and still going into work or school where possible, the evacuees face an uncertain future, as the government has yet to decide whether or not the residents can rebuild in the tsunami affected area or if they must relocate. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that victims such as the former inhabitants of Minamisanriku will require significant assistance in the short and possibly the long term.

Reporting Recovery Now and Ahead

One hopes that the potential for another disaster so soon after the first may refocus world attention from the economic costs and high-level political effect of the quake to the plight of the individual Japanese at ground level.

While media coverage has dwindled in comparison to the struggles facing many in Japan’s northeast, there has been a surge of optimistic stories amid dire situations coinciding with the four month anniversary.

The New York Times profiles Sendai’s steady recovery and examines how Japan is solving the problem of approximately 27 million tons of debris created by the tsunami. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal profiles the hard-hit city of Rikuzentakata, which lost a tenth of its population.

EastAsiaForum looks at the crises’ impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance, focusing on synergy between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.

Asahi reports on the outpour of support from the Japan Expo in Paris; and the touching story of a father’s desire to restore his daughter’s piano—the only thing left in their home after the tsunami.

The Times
also carried related technology and sports coverage, profiling Google's responses to disaster stricken Japan, and showing how baseball has brought stability to students displaced by the tsunami.

We’ve recently begun receiving updates from the organizations that have received support from the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.The Japan NPO Center announced support to six local NPOs in the Tokohu region, and JEN reports from their work in Ishinomaki.

These personal stories are absolutely necessary to aid and illustrate the revival of the devastated regions of Japan. As much as possible, this blog will balance major events in Japan’s recovery with individual accounts from those experiencing and taking part in reconstruction first-hand.

--Tobias Voss

No comments: