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Japan tsunami and quake survivors face uncertain future

9 September 2011

Japanese Red Cross volunteer sitting with elderly quake survivor© InfoSix months on from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated huge areas of north-eastern Japan, lack of adequate healthcare infrastructure remains a huge challenge in caring for survivors.

As well as its plans to build temporary hospitals, one of the Red Cross’ priorities has been to restore a sense of normality for people who have lost family members, homes and livelihoods. It has already provided a package of household appliances to 91,000 families many of whom have moved in to temporary homes and the programme will be expanded to reach around 110,000 families.

Barry Armstrong, British Red Cross disaster response manager, said: “Thanks to the generosity of donors, we raised more than £13 million which is being used to support the Japanese Red Cross relief and recovery programme. Many hospitals and clinics were damaged or destroyed and the funds will help address this situation as well as provide household goods for many families who lost their homes.”

Temporary hospitals needed

With donations totalling 40 billion yen (£323 million) received so far from Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world, the Japanese Red Cross plans include building several temporary hospitals.

The Japanese government will be building permanent facilities as part of its integrated town reconstruction plans and this is expected to take around five years.

In the meantime temporary hospitals are essential as prefabricated facilities currently being used are already becoming overcrowded.

Evacuation centres and temporary homes

Japanese Red Cross volunteers preparing food© InfoMeeting the needs of families evacuated from the area around the damaged nuclear reactor in Fukushima continues to be a major challenge. Around 8,000 people are still in evacuation centres but the majority have now moved into temporary houses.

Given the complicated challenges facing the recovery operation, it’s likely many, such as Ayako Yamada and her family, will remain in temporary accommodation for a few years.

“On the one hand we really want to go back, but on the other, we know we can’t, “says Ayako. “We wore protective clothing to make one brief visit back to our home, which is in a 20 km exclusion zone, but that is it. We retrieved a few things including a photo of my deceased father.”

Red Cross volunteers are organising regular social events to help survivors, like the Yamada family, get to know their neighbours and prevent a sense of isolation.

Red Cross support for survivors

Immediately after the disaster, the Japanese Red Cross deployed 800 medical teams to run mobile clinics for survivors and it continues to provide psychosocial support to people remaining in evacuation shelters, as well as those in their homes, especially the elderly.

Before the disaster hit the Tohoku region of Japan it was home to a large, ageing population and the elderly remain particularly vulnerable.

“Given the enormous scale of the destruction and the massive area affected, this will be a long and complex recovery and reconstruction operation,” says Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society. “It will take at least five years to rebuild, but healing the mental scars could take much longer.”

Watch a video about the Red Cross response in Japan


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