Japan Relief Advances
By Linda Unger*
June 8, 2011—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) hailed the opening today of an ecumenical disaster response office in Tokyo and vowed to stand with Japan’s churches as they take further steps to assist survivors of the March 11 triple disaster there.
With the launching of the office, NCC-JEDRO (National Christian Council – Japan Ecumenical Disaster Response Office), the churches can engage systematically in relief and recovery work and deepen their accompaniment of survivors of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunamis, and ongoing nuclear threat.
The office is the product of the National Christian Council Japan (NCCJ) Consortium for Tohoku Disaster Relief, an ecumenical coordinating body created by the NCCJ at the urging of national and international colleagues who made the recommendation during a Solidarity Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in May.
“We shall do our best to meet this enormous challenge,” NCCJ moderator and acting general secretary, the Rev. Isamu Koshiishi, wrote this week in a follow-up letter to meeting participants. “We know, as you do, that it will not be easy. The disaster response will require tenacity, skill, and competence,” he stated.
UMCOR International Disaster Response executive, Melissa Crutchfield, who was present at the meeting, affirmed UMCOR’s “commitment to working with and supporting Japan’s churches and other local partners as they develop and organize their relief efforts.”
The “foundation of partnership and cooperation” asserted during the meeting and made pragmatic in the formation of the consortium, she said, “will help us coordinate better for more timely and effective implementation of relief and longer-term recovery activities on the ground in Japan.”
Representatives from 40 Christian partner organizations of the NCCJ participated in the May meeting, including some who are now part of NCC-JEDRO and the consortium. These include United Church of Christ in Japan, Korean Christian Church in Japan, Tohoku Help, Church of Christ in Japan, and others.
In addition to the coordination of relief efforts, Crutchfield said, meeting participants also discussed “ways to present a united front on advocacy issues related to the government’s use of nuclear power and their responsibility in providing for the most vulnerable populations after disasters.”
Finally, she said, “we identified ways to strengthen the capacity of our Japanese partners for responding to emergencies in their own backyard through sharing technical, human, and financial resources.”
Crutchfield and UMCOR head, the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, will travel to Japan next month to meet with partners of NCC-JEDRO to assess next steps and the progress of relief projects that UMCOR is currently supporting.
“It’s important for us to have a personal connection with our partners and to see firsthand the needs the communities are experiencing in the wake of so devastating a disaster,” Harvey said. “We want to affirm our solidarity with the people of Japan and our commitment to our continued work there.”
The UMCOR executives will visit some of the sites where communities were hardest hit by the disaster in the Tohoku Region on Honshu, Japan’s largest island. This month, the official death toll surpassed 15,300 people, with more than 8,200 individuals still missing.
Damages are estimated at $305 billion, making this the costliest disaster on record. More than 72,550 buildings were completely destroyed, washed away, or burned to the ground.
UMCOR has so far disbursed $240,000 to partner organizations, including two new emergency grants that were released last week.
One of the grants provides food packages for 180 Japanese families in Iwate prefecture. The other supports efforts of the Tohoku Disaster Relief Center to clean up 20 homes that survived the tsunamis in Sendai City.
Personnel from the Tohoku Disaster Relief Center will confer with UMCOR consultant Noriko Lao, who deployed this week to Japan for a short-term assignment. She will assist them in the development of a local volunteer program and the hiring of technical staff. She will also meet with other UMCOR partners while in Japan.
In his letter to the May meeting participants, Rev. Koshiishi expressed gratitude for the solidarity received in the wake of the triple disaster in Japan. “We are sure that with your continued prayers and support we shall overcome this most formidable challenge in our recent history.”
*Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR.