Japan Recovery Advances
By Linda Unger*
October 12, 2011, New York—Seven months after a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis struck Japan, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has approved nearly $2 million in new funding to help partners there meet emergency needs while also rebuilding and preparing for the future.
Yesterday, during their semi-annual meeting, UMCOR’s board of directors approved three grants totaling $1.7 million for Japan recovery. Together, the grants offer comprehensive assistance in response to specific needs identified by UMCOR partners in Japan.
“Through these grants, we’re addressing livelihoods, infrastructure, psychosocial support, and providing the means for advocacy with regard to the responsible use of nuclear energy,” said UMCOR International Disaster Response executive, Melissa Crutchfield.
“The three grants together reflect both our comprehensive approach to this disaster and the diversity of our partners in Japan,” she continued. “Each one of these partners is engaged in a different aspect of recovery.”
UMCOR’s support for Church World Service – Asia/Pacific will continue assistance to meet ongoing emergency needs, including the provision of hot meals to survivors; clearing debris from tsunami-affected homes, businesses, and public spaces; and pest control and sanitation services.
Church World Service will use part of the grant toward providing psychosocial support for traumatized individuals and communities, including a hotline for single mothers, psychosocial seminars, and day-care spaces for children, as well as for livelihoods support via a community mobilization program.
The triple disaster in Japan last March 11 caused enormous destruction, havoc, and loss of life. Recent figures confirm 15,776 deaths and more than 4,200 individuals still missing or unaccounted for. Some 450,000 people were left homeless by the event.
“Japan is an affirmation that in times of disasters, need is need, however developed or developing a country is. Disasters don’t pick and choose,” said UMCOR head, the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey. “There are vulnerable populations everywhere, and our relief and recovery work is important.”
Worst Nuclear Accident in History
During a July assessment trip to Japan, Crutchfield said, “We heard a lot of concern surrounding the nuclear contamination part of the disaster. It weighs heavily on survivors’ minds, and there is a lot of anxiety around it.”
Although official information has been slow in coming, Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters recently affirmed that three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant experienced full meltdowns after the earthquake.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company said the accident probably released more radioactive material than the Chernobyl accident of 1986, making this the worst nuclear accident in history.
UMCOR partner, Japan Ecumenical Disaster Response Office (JEDRO) of the ecumenical National Christian Council of Japan (NCCJ) is in the forefront of responding to the nuclear crisis with both information and advocacy.
UMCOR’s support for JEDRO will allow the organization to purchase Geiger counters for community use and more than 200 smaller versions for personal use. In the face of scant official information, these will allow for monitoring of radiation poisoning in soil and produce, as well as around schools and neighborhoods.
“They will help farmers decide whether to grow produce and help consumers decide whether to buy, and they will help all to avoid unnecessary exposure,” Crutchfield said. The grant also will support JEDRO’s advocacy efforts with Japanese leaders.
The Asian Rural Institute (ARI) will be among the recipients of a JEDRO Geiger counter. ARI also is the recipient of a grant that will help the longtime UMCOR partner reconstruct buildings essential to its agricultural and leadership training programs.
UMCOR has been involved with ARI, an international training ground for grassroots rural leaders, since ARI’s founding in 1973. To date, ARI’s nine-month training program in sustainable agriculture, community development, and leadership has prepared 1,130 rural leaders from 51 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.
This year, even with key buildings badly damaged in the earthquake, ARI was able to move its 2011 Rural Leaders Training Program forward. It also came up with innovative techniques for removing radiation poisoning from soil. But in order to sustain programming, ARI will have to rebuild its damaged structures.
“This grant supports ARI as it both rebuilds and re-envisions their campus and their programming in response to the current situation,” Crutchfield said. “They’re really well placed to be a leader in soil decontamination, and it’s exciting for UMCOR to be with ARI on the cutting edge of that.”
In addition to these grants approved during the UMCOR board meeting, the directors also approved assistance that will allow UMCOR partner GlobalMedic to provide purified water to two communities impacted by the Mach 11 earthquake and tsunami, and by Typhoon Roke, which struck in mid-September.
Some 550 families, or 2,750 individuals, will benefit from household water purification units that will ensure them clean drinking water for a period of 12 months.
“It’s remarkable that our partner organizations in Japan have the proven capacity—just seven months after the triple disaster—to receive grants, implement programs, and to be accountable to us, the people of The United Methodist Church, who with generous gifts stand in solidarity with the Japanese people,” said Harvey.
*Linda Unger is UMCOR senior writer and staff editor.