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90-day report from Japan

Japan, June 9, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Christopher Cabatbat/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Christopher Cabatbat/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is working in full partnership with Peace Winds, a Japan-based humanitarian organization, to respond to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. On the ground, we’re working together as one team. Our combined skills — the Japan base and global reach of Peace Winds, together with both Peace Winds and Mercy Corps’ expertise responding to disasters around the world — allow us to effectively and efficiently assist the Japanese people.

Mercy Corps and Peace Winds have worked together to respond to disasters numerous times over the past decade. Our two organizations cooperatively provided humanitarian assistance to families in war-torn northern Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as along the U.S. Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. We also jointly responded to the massive 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, which required a large-scale and complicated logistical operation.

Urgent Emergency Relief

The number-one priority for Mercy Corps has been to fill immediate survival needs. The Japanese government’s emergency response has proven to be quite capable, but there is still much we can do. In the first days and weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, our response team focused on providing a wide range of basic relief items, such as food, water, shelter and blankets.

Currently, Mercy Corps and Peace Winds are helping to fill service gaps, such as transportation, provision of household supplies and availability of grocery items in devastated cities.

Long-Term Recovery Effort

As the cleanup continues, it’s crucial to support psychological, social and economic recovery. We are connecting with other local partners to ensure that our efforts help as many people as possible.

Late April brought an important milestone on the return to normalcy in tsunami-affected Japan: schools reopened their doors. For many children, their new reality is staying in an evacuation center or temporary housing that are nothing like home. For all children in affected areas, life has been turned upside down. Mercy Corps and Peace Winds staff and volunteers are visiting the shelters to play with children, as well as provide sports, art and school supplies and toys.

Mercy Corps is bringing post-trauma help to Japanese children through Comfort for Kids, a methodology that builds local communities’ ability to help children recover from the emotional effects of a large-scale disaster.

Comfort for Kids has provided post-trauma healing to children and caregivers in settings as diverse as New York City after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and earthquake zones in China and Haiti. Our Comfort for Kids program lessens the likelihood of long-term behavioral problems and moves children toward regaining a sense of stability. When they can laugh again, play again and just be kids again, they are on their way to a healthy recovery.

Mercy Corps and Peace Winds are sponsoring a free bus that takes people from evacuation centers to nearby towns for their jobs, shopping and hospital visits. On May 16, Mercy Corps assisted in opening the first mobile grocery shop, giving a businessman whose shop was destroyed a chance to restart his business on a small scale. This new mobile shop is an enormous convenience for people, many of whom lost their cars and were walking an hour or more to purchase even the most basic items.

Mercy Corps is providing tsunami survivors with vouchers they can use at local merchants to meet their immediate needs for food, clothing and other basic supplies. This type of voucher program allows survivors to prioritize their own needs and helps merchants bounce back by injecting much-needed cash into their businesses.

Mercy Corps and Peace Winds are also working closely with fishing cooperatives to evaluate the situation of the fishing industry and discover how we can help revitalize it. To start, we are supporting an underwater assessment of the harbor that will allow local citizens the opportunity to prioritize cleanup and reseeding of oyster beds.

As the situation changes in the coming months, Mercy Corps will continue to evaluate how we can best meet the needs in Japan’s disaster-affected regions. With the help of supporters like you, we’re working to turn crisis into opportunity for thousands of Japanese people. We look forward to sharing our ongoing progress with you.