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Notes from the Field
Posted by: BARUME BISIMWA ZIBA at 3:19AM EST on March 22, 2013
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Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:48PM EST on March 2, 2012
Katsuhiko Takeda, National Director, CARE Japan
March 2, 2012
"CARE's vision is to fight against worldwide poverty and to protect and enhance human dignity. CARE Japan decided to respond to this disaster to protect and enhance human dignity of the affected population. Mega disasters, even in developed contexts, can leave people with absolutely nothing in the immediate aftermath, push self-sufficient populations into poverty, eradicate years of development and threaten people's right to life with dignity. Today, I can firmly say: If the same scale of earthquake hits Japan, we'll respond again. This is a firm commitment shared among all the staff of CARE Japan.
CARE Japan has decided to run our psychosocial program until June 2013.One year has passed since the earthquake and tsunami. Temporary housing compounds have been built. Many more stores are restarting their business. And, newly developed local organizations are now playing a major role in initiating recovery efforts. Still, the psychosocial effects of the disaster remain present. Many of the survivors are struggling to overcome the events of March 11. "I sometime do nothing but keep watching TV which is not showing anything," told an elderly lady who wanted to be anonymous to a CARE staff at a community café CARE supports.
CARE had completed the food program in June 2011, and now focuses more on community relief and psychosocial support to help people recover from the trauma. The needs of the people in the affected area will shift as the time passes. CARE continues to coordinate with local authorities and other aid agencies in order to identify the needs and reach the most vulnerable people."
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 11:07AM EST on April 15, 2011
By Futaba Kaiharazuka, (Assistant Program Director, Emergency Response, CARE Japan)
In one of the evacuation centers where CARE Japan is providing hot meals, there is a man with perfectly groomed hair who wears a certain jacket. The man is in his late 60s or early 70s and always joins in the aid work at the center, volunteering to help with the heavy lifting. He is one of those people who is always courteous and never stops smiling.
One member of the CARE team had the chance to chat with him a few days ago during the food distribution. His house, like many of the disaster victims, and all his household possessions were washed away. When the tsunami struck he was wearing the same jacket he now wears all the time. He explained that he wears the jacket not because he cannot change his clothes; the evacuation center has received many relief items including clothing and underwear, rather, he wears it because out of all his personal possessions, his jacket is the only item that survived the tsunami. “Everything I had was washed away, but I am a fighter”, he said with his usual smile whilst chatting to the kitchen staff. There is a mountain of relief goods such as clothes and new items that have been delivered, but despite this, he feels wearing his own jacket gives him the strength and courage to go on.
In the midst of such great post-disaster disorder, CARE sees countless examples of people helping each other through the chaos, despite the severity of their own circumstances. The old man’s story shows the strength and courage of these people who are determined to pick themselves up again.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 11:01AM EST on April 15, 2011
By Yuko Ota, (Assistant Program Officer, Emergency Response, CARE Japan)
The CARE Japan team visited a family of 11 members including a grandfather, his daughter and her husband (in their 50s), a grandchild, two great-granddaughters (eight and two years old) as well as five relatives who had lost their house. The lived in Kirikiri district in the city of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, one of the regions that was most destroyed by a massive tsunami on March 11. The sun was setting as the CARE team arrived so there was a chill in the air – but this area hasn't yet had the water or gas supply restored so the family could not use the heater in the living room. The temperature indoors was almost the same as outside.
We talked to the mother and she told us that electricity has still not been restored. ''A few days ago our neighbors let us share some of their power supply. For the first time in one month we saw the extent of the damage on TV'', she said. ''Until then we had no information at all, and since seeing the vast scale of destruction in Tohoku on TV, I cry everyday.'' She described witnessing the sheer might of the tsunami approaching: ''I thought tsunamis were noisy splashing waves. But the tsunami last month crept in silently and in an instant swept away houses and everything else in its path.''
When the earthquake struck, her grandmother was on her way to collect the great-grandchild from Kirikiri elementary school. ''She was swept away by the tsunami, was missing, and then nine days later her body was found'', described the mother through her tears. They finally found a crematorium and were told that usually bodies would be cremated within three days of being found, but there were so many bodies in that area that a regional mass funeral is scheduled to be held at a temple on 29th April.
The mother continued explaining how the first three nights after the tsunami the family of six slept in their car in case they had to suddenly escape. ''We are still so worried that there might be another earthquake in the night, so we slept fully clothed in case we have to flee.''
The only granddaughter is heavily pregnant. ''As she is in her final month of pregnancy, she should be growing bigger, but she hasn't really grown. I wish she could have bath in clean water, but there is still no water supply'', the mother described, looking very worried. The Japanese military set up simple bathing facilities in the Kirikiri elementary school nearby, but it is very exhausting for the granddaughter to go there.
The mother runs a barber shop next door, but as there is no water, gas or reliable electricity supply, she doesn't know when she will be able to reopen. ''We have no daily income. I am very unsure of our future. But we are the lucky ones. Many neighbors have lost family members, their houses and their possessions. The town mayor also died so we will have to join hands and work together and restore the town.''
It has now been one month since the disaster struck. The disaster victims, despite experiencing great hardship, are determined to encourage and help each other to grow stronger and step by step restore their lives. In order to support the strength of the local people, CARE assessed the situation in the disaster zone so we can provide the people with the aid they really need. We provide food to evacuees in three centers – in a situation like this, with cold temperatures and many older people in poor health condition, it is important to get nutritious food in order to stay healthy.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 9:48AM EST on April 8, 2011
By Robert Laprade
These are my last days in Japan. I am back in Tokyo now and will leave the country on Friday. It has been almost four weeks since the tsunami hit the coast of northern Japan; in many areas it was more than 30 meters high. There are still so many humanitarian needs. Even though infrastructure is getting repaired by the government, with roads being cleared, ports functioning again, and the lights coming back on, it is apparent even to those unfamiliar with emergency work that it will take five to ten years to rebuild the area--at least. Survivors living in evacuation centers or with host families face huge challenges. They will not be going back home anytime soon as many of their houses are now nothing more than a foundation. Others’ homes are partially damaged with windows and doors torn off, filled with a meter of a mixture of mud and miscellaneous, smashed rubbish. The initial shock of the disaster has receded – now it is dawning on many people just how bad their situation really is. They realize that they will not be able to live in their homes soon, if ever, again. It’s a huge challenge for the government. In the first weeks, the focus has rightly been on searching for survivors and remains of victims, putting a roof over the affected people as quickly as possible, and getting basic infrastructure back up and running. Now the government needs to determine how to house people for a longer period before permanent housing can be built. In the fishing towns of Yamada and Otsuchi and many others, most buildings are destroyed—only the wood, metal siding, beams, and contents remain, strewn across the hideous landscape kilometers from where they once stood as offices, houses, and schools. Much of the coastline where the tsunami hit is mountainous. The only flat area is the land lining the coves and inlets wiped almost clean in the disaster. There is not much space to build temporary houses for all evacuees.
When I visited the evacuation centers I saw that many survivors had nothing to do. Many just sat there traumatized. Others conversed with friends and relatives. Being in close quarters—sleeping, eating, and talking to the same group of people in very cramped space—can be a stressful experience after some time. Many people are still clearly grieving as it is only now becoming clear that they will probably never see their missing loved ones again. In some of the centers, we have been looking at helping with recreational and cultural activities that can help reduce some of the stress and monotony, especially for elderly people who may have extra challenges of mobility. These need to be things that are culturally and socially familiar to them, and that they identify as giving comfort or providing a bit of fun.
The evacuation centers in Yamada where CARE provides hot meals two times a day are located in a school compound. But the school year starts in the next few weeks. That’s another challenge. We have already been told that we need to remove our kitchen and storehouse as they were located in the classrooms. Evacuation center residents are sleeping in the gym and will not be forced to leave. My Japanese CARE colleagues now have to identify new places to store food and supplies and a place to cook. But that’s the nature of humanitarian operations. It is our duty to act in the best interest of those affected. In this case, we want the kids to go back to school, the people who don’t have a home to have a place to live, and to ensure that we can still serve nutritious food for the residents. We need to be flexible in a dynamic environment, finding ways to bring help to survivors and meet the many different needs they have.
The past weeks in Japan have shown me how fragile life is. Whether we live in developed or developing countries, whether in cities or villages, we can never be too secure. I also think we should respond to the humanitarian needs of survivors, no matter in which region of the world they live, even if they happen to come from a “rich” country. The tsunami in Japan also really underlines the importance of disaster risk reduction and early warning systems. Had those systems not been in place, clearly casualties would have been much higher. It was also great to see how people helped each other out in their time of greatest need. The Japanese people have all pulled together, everyone doing their own part to in some way show their support for the victims and survivors. There were numerous donations and offers to host homeless survivors. Inhabitants of Tokyo try to save energy whenever they can. The hotel where I am staying in Tokyo turns out the lights in the lobby when breakfast is over. All the glitter and glamour that you visualize when you think of Japan is toned down. Excessive celebrations during this important time of traditional cherry blossom festivals are even frowned upon. The CARE team in Tokyo is still working long hours, until 10 p.m. every day. Everyone seems content making sacrifices, knowing that in some small way they are paying their respects to the inhabitants of the ravaged Northeast coast and making a difference in the lives of survivors.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 10:59AM EST on April 4, 2011
By Robert Laprade
Today we distributed hot meals to evacuees in Yamada. Since the tsunami hit northern Japan, many survivors have not received balanced, hot meals on a regular basis. They are mostly surviving on just rice and some occasional fruit. In a situation like this, with cold temperatures and many older people in poor health condition, it is important to get nutritious food in order to stay healthy. Trained cooks and cafeteria staff helped us to prepare the food to ensure cleanliness. We are providing two meals a day in three locations of one big school compound here in Yamada. The evacuees were really happy and thankful. In this rather positive mood we set off to do some further assessment in Otsuchi, a fishing town south of Yamada. When we arrived there, my good mood was suddenly replaced by pure shock. Described by some newspapers as one of the worst hit towns, Otsuchi was in dreadful condition. Here again we could see the destructive force of a tsunami: debris everywhere for kilometers as far as the eye could see—houses, cars, parts of large concrete bridges, large electrical turbines, even a few fire engines strewn across the muddy landscape as if a giant child had emptied his set of Legos and children's toys into a muddy, dirty sandbox. In the areas where the waves had reached their maximum incursion inland, some houses were but left with one to two meters of grey, ugly mud that now covers everything. Within that mud, everything imaginable is mixed. Driving through the area of Otsuchi where some of these houses survived, we saw elderly people digging in the mud, trying to find even just a few belongings that can remind them of the world they once knew.
We talked to one woman, who was picking around the smelly mud. She was around 70 years old. The tsunami took her husband away. When we approached her, she had just dug a few dishes out and squatted around a plastic bowl where she cleaned them in water. It was cold outside but she wanted to rescue her few little things; it was all that she had left. She told us that even though a few volunteers came to help, she was really doing the cleaning all by herself. Her house was still standing, but everything inside was destroyed. It was really heart-wrenching. The tears from my CARE Japanese colleagues ran down their cheeks for five minutes; I think it was a blessing that I required a translation and could not understand everything she said. We were so far away from the glittery, high-tech world of Tokyo that we see from the movies and TV about Japan. People here did not possess much to begin with, most lived in small duplex houses, provided by the government and which looked like trailers. This was a fishing area. Those young, agile, and educated enough have long gone to the cities to find better paid work. Only the old ones were left.
We met another woman together with her husband. Both were also digging through the mud, looking for a few valuables. She told me she was the youngest around here – and she was already 60 years of age. She pointed to some of the houses, saying that almost all of the inhabitants are 80 years and older. Most of them are just physically not able to clean the mud from their houses. They need help. They were questioning why the municipality did not help them. When we drove about a kilometer over a hilly outcropping and gazed out over a small bay we realized why nobody would help for a very, very long time. The entire commercial and downtown residential area of Otsuchi was gone. Washed away. The mayor died—so did anybody else who remained behind or couldn't run fast enough when the warning sirens went off. From the hill, it looked like a bomb hit this town. Probably only one in twenty buildings were even recognizable as buildings—just foundations or a post or two of metal, maybe a half wall here and there. When entering this burned out ghost town of mangled metal, concrete, and mud, I noticed an overhead highway sign that remained standing. It indicated that Sendai is 230 kilometers away--230 kilometers to the center of tsunami impact. How in the world could it look worse than here?
After this awful excursion into hell, we went back to Yamada. I am glad that we could provide the people here nutritious food. And we'll do more of it elsewhere. Afterall, it's people like the women we met who are the residents of the evacuation centers. There is so much work to do.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 10:12AM EST on March 31, 2011
By Futaba Kaiharazuka, (Assistant Program Director, Emergency Response, CARE Japan)
The CARE Japan team returned for the second time to the disaster zone in the northeast of Japan and have now been here for a week.Whilst setting up CARE Japan's aid program, we have had days where we have made great progress, but also some days of setbacks and few advances- this is the reality of an emergency relief site.
Yamada town in Iwate Prefecture, the chosen town for CARE Japan's new relief programme, is one of the towns to have been very badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. I had never visited Iwate Prefecture until now, and didn't know much of the area, but the first time I visited Yamada and saw the sheer devastation, I was lost for words and my heart stopped. Many of the houses had been washed away and destroyed by the tsunami. A town of rubble, as far as the eye can see, with strangely shaped fragments in every nook and cranny, cars in outrageous places and a burnt odour looming over the houses that weren't washed away but burned down. Although I can't believe I am looking at a Japanese landscape, I was reminded that this is the present undeniable reality.
I looked out beyond the tsunami-scarred coastline, and saw the contrast of the tranquil and beautiful ocean. When we first came to conduct a survey, the beauty of the ocean caught my eye. I am sure the people of Yamada must have been proud of the ocean. It is easy to imagine the sea rich in marine life, such as oysters and seaweed. Everyone we have met who lived by the sea has had their house or people they loved, and their hometown's beautiful view engulfed by the tsunami in an instant. I keep asking myself 'what on earth can I do to help?'
However, everyone here is determined to overcome the devastation; the town hall officials working 46hours straight; the mothers who despite having damaged houses themselves, go to the evacuation centres everyday to help out in the soup kitchen; the high school students moving boxes as their small contribution, the people who wrote 'Smile!' in big colourful letters to encourage the children; everyone is playing their part towards the restoration. We were very encouraged by these people as we made our preparations to begin CARE Japan's relief cooperation.
The people of this town are determined to survive. Even though they face such great insecurity as to how they will live from now on, and questioning what will happen next, they all support and care for each other living as evacuees. The CARE Japan staff, our international colleagues who came to assist us and I aim to support the admirable people of Yamada to help restore their once beautiful town and their individual livelihoods.
Posted by: Jon Thompson at 11:46AM EST on March 25, 2011
After we had an early morning planning session over Japanese breakfast, we drove to the coast of Iwate prefecture. We came to a small city called Miyako, and while we were driving around the corner of what seemed like a normal street, all of sudden we arrived in hell. Before us lay total destruction. Cars were upside down, metal parts were scattered everywhere. The bizarre thing was that we looked on one side of the road and there was a supermarket, perfectly standing without a scratch. On the other side of the road, it was total destruction. But it got worse. We drove into Yamada town and there almost the entire downtown area was wiped out. Yamada is a fishing town, and some people farmed oysters and seaweed.Amongst the rubble and mud, fishing gear, nets and floats were strung everywhere. What was once the professional equipment of fishermen now lay like garland on a Christmas tree, but the ‘trees’ were mangled pieces of houses. Heaps of furniture and personal belongings and just about anything one could imagine stuck out of the mass of muck. The area of destruction was three to four square kilometres; we could not see the end of it. I was amazed how quickly the Japanese government has cleared the main roads. We drove through Yamada on perfectly clean, paved roads, but rubble and debris were piled up to ten metres on both sides.
While working our way through the maze of roads, I noticed through gaps in the debris that all houses built higher than 20 metres above sea level stood untouched by the wave. The city hall stood on a small hill and it survived without a scratch. However, right in front a field of cars, house parts, and machinery were burnt almost beyond recognition – black, burnt heaps of debris. I remember the pictures on television when the tsunami came in with rafts of burning rubbish; this now was how it looked after the water receded. Much of it reminded me of the post-apocalyptic world described in the novel The Road.
We entered the city hall looking for officials to whom we could explain our work and get permission to start looking for a base for operations. On the ground floor of the city hall, we sighted a billboard where people left notes for their lost loved ones in case they miraculously showed up looking for them. In another room, the search teams had placed wet and ragged photo albums they had found in the rubble. For some people, these memories are all they have left. We found the mayor on the second floor; he was a very friendly man who told us with a big hospitable smile that he lost his home. However, this was not the first time he experienced a large tsunami. In the 1960s, an earthquake in Chile triggered a series of waves which also smashed the coast of Yamada. He told us that Yamada has 21,000 inhabitants and that around 7,000 people are displaced living in about 30 shelters in schools, temples, and community centres. Around 1,500 families still live in their houses but cannot get out due to lack of gasoline or roads blocked by trash left by the tsunami. Currently there is no functioning grocery store anywhere to be found in Yamada itself so walking for food is not an option.
After meeting the mayor we went to an elementary school. Around 100 people were sheltered there. They told us that in the evenings inhabitants of the surrounding villages come by and the evacuees share their meals with them because they have no means to go and buy food. In one of the rooms used clothing lay on the floor and was being sorted. These were certainly donations, waiting to be distributed. However, we also heard that the food arriving at the shelter is not enough and often a meal of just rice. We talked to a group of women, all of them sitting on their mattresses. One woman told me that she and her family survived the tsunami but her home is completely gone. All her neighbours are dead. She was around 60 years old and the youngest of the group. She said they are all fishermen here but now have lost their boats, their nets and their income. She also did not know whether her insurance will cover her losses, since all her papers were washed away. “Our lives have fallen apart”.
When we drove to another evacuation centre, it started snowing again. Giant white snow flakes fell down. It is still freezing here. In this high school, 800 people have sought shelter. In the gym, mattress lay next to mattress. This place was really crowded. Although orderly, it did not look very comfortable. There was a stage which was now the office of the centre. We passed by the kitchen where three shifts of evacuees cooked whatever was delivered by the local government from donations from around Japan. Army trucks arrived and helped in delivering relief items; we were told the troops also regularly cooked rice for the evacuees.
Tomorrow we plan to go further north but tonight I will focus on putting together a strategic plan for a CARE emergency response while my colleagues Alain and Futaba will begin to write an operational plan to scale up our assistance. We need to locate key relief items and how to get them to the people who need them the most. We are looking at beginning a program to ensure that the nutritional value of meals prepared for evacuees is improved through the introduction of vegetables and fish or meat. Authorities have been overwhelmed in the search for survivors, getting roads cleared, and looking for missing people and just haven’t had the time. Japanese people are used to having good hot food for every meal just as we are at home, so it’s quite a hardship when they’ve lost loved ones, are suffering through incredible trauma, and can’t even get a decent meal. Many evacuees are elderly or children and good nutrition is especially important to keeping up their health in crowded, cold conditions.