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Red Cross Scales Up Relief Efforts to Meet Huge Needs in Japan

The Japanese Red Cross Society is scaling up its relief operations to help meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of survivors who are now housed in evacuation centers following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which devastated large tracts of northeastern Honshu, the main island of Japan.

Today, about 264,000 people are staying in the approximately 1,800 shelters operated by the government and supported by the Japanese Red Cross. Each day, approximately 10,000 people leave the evacuation centers and return to their homes as electricity is restored. But most do not know how long they will remain in the public shelters.

“The Japanese Red Cross is also involved in looking after those in evacuation centers who have been forced to leave their homes in the exclusion zone that’s been created around the nuclear facility, “ said Francis Markus, a Red Cross spokesperson working from Japan. “This adds to the complexity of the humanitarian situation.”

To date, the Japanese Red Cross has handed out more than 125,000 blankets and 20,700 emergency kits – including portable radios, flashlights and other supplies – to help evacuees cope with the cold weather and lack of electricity. Other badly needed items, such as diapers, baby food, undershirts and face masks, are being procured from within the country as well. These additional supplies will benefit approximately 100,000 people.

In parallel with the distribution of relief goods, Japanese Red Cross leaders are also consulting with the local authorities to map out other ways of making survivors’ lives more comfortable during their stay in evacuation centers.

“The first few days people had one rice ball a day, then two and now, on the sixth day, are eating three meals a day,” said Nan Buzard, senior director of international response and programs with the American Red Cross, during her week-long mission in Japan which ended Saturday, March 20. “But without fuel and stoves there is no heat, and I hate to think how miserable it will be when night comes. No electricity means no water though there were some buckets for minimal washing.”

The Japanese Red Cross is exploring ways to bring hot showers and improve the sanitation facilities in the government-run shelters. And with advocacy, fuel and food deliveries are becoming more regular.

Since the disaster, which left more than 8,000 dead and many thousands more missing, the Japanese Red Cross has also focused its operations on providing medical care to those affected by the disaster.

To date, the Japanese Red Cross has deployed nearly 275 medical teams, made up of more than 1,600 people, including doctors and nurses. Currently, more than 40 teams are working through hospitals, mobile clinics and other health facilities to provide medical care and counseling for survivors. The psychological wellbeing of a mainly elderly population that has been traumatized by the destruction of their homes and traditional way of life will remain a priority.

“This is going to be an enormous recovery operation,” said Buzard. “We saw hundreds of thousands of people displaced – many elderly who will need particular kinds of care. That will be a challenging opportunity but a challenge to all (Red Cross and Red Crescent) national societies who are going to work with the Japanese Red Cross to support them – not only getting relief to people who are still suffering a trauma but (dealing with) the long-term trauma of displacement and losing all of the things that matter to them.”

Evacuation center in the gymnastic stadium of the Rikuzen Takada 1st Junior High school in Iwate Prefecture.

Photo: Japanese Red Cross Society

The Japanese Red Cross has been distributing a bag called 'Emergency Kits'. The kits contain contains a blanket, radio and flashlight.

Photo: Japanese Red Cross Society

Mr.Hirakuri, a disaster management volunteer for the Japanese Red Cross Society, lives in Fukushima prefecture. He owns the acupressure clinic, and he normaly provides a mobile clinic service to the homes of elderly peoples. Without fuel, he is travelling by bicycle to check on the elderly and provide care when needed.

Photo: Japanese Red Cross Society.As longer-term plans are formed, the Japanese Red Cross also expects to offer further support to the most vulnerable when they are relocated to prefabricated housing organized by the Japanese government in the coming weeks and months.

Officials from the Japanese Red Cross have publicly said they are grateful for donations from the American Red Cross and that they will go far to support these relief and recovery activities.

The American Red Cross has made an initial contribution of $10 million to the Japanese Red Cross Society and is funding about half of the United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP) logistical operation designed to help move and store relief supplies post-disaster.

“The support of the American people and our partnership with the American Red Cross is critical for WFP and the Japanese authorities to provide a flow of relief supplies to those suffering from so much tragedy and hardship,” said Nancy Roman, WFP’s director of communications, public policy and private partnerships.

As pledges are fulfilled, the American Red Cross plans to make additional contributions to assist people coping with this disaster in Japan. The American Red Cross and Japanese Red Cross have a history of mutual support. The American Red Cross aided the Japanese during the Kobe earthquake in 1995 with $10 million worth of assistance. The Japanese Red Cross also sent us support after September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, totaling nearly $30 million.