Starting to build after Japan's tsunami


April 2, 2011

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    Malka Older/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Just three weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japanese workers are building temporary housing for the displaced. It might take up to a year to construct enough housing for all the survivors who need it. Photo: Malka Older/Mercy Corps

It's hard to describe the desolation left by a tsunami, because there is so little left that is nameable.

The word that comes to mind is wasteland: a static marsh of mud, wooden planks, torn up land, unidentifiable fragments of metal. Gazing at the wreckage of Kesennuma harbor, my eyes caught on a few recognizable shapes: the glazed Japanese roof tiles of houses tipped on their sides or upside down; houses on top of mangled cars; mangled cars on top of houses; boats on top of houses or cars or both. But most of what I saw had been so utterly destroyed that I couldn’t even decipher what it used to be.

Even so, my colleagues assured me that what I was seeing was a vast improvement since their previous visit, and as we watched debris were being loaded into dump trucks and roads were being cleared, the workers seemingly undaunted by the immensity of the task ahead.

Near one of the Kesennuma shelters we saw that only three weeks after the devastating tsunami, the government is already constructing temporary shelters. I was amazed by the speed of this response; however, due to the scale of the devastation, it is estimated that it will take up to a year to build enough temporary shelters for all the people who have been displaced.

Shelter alone does not answer all of the needs of the displaced. For the vulnerable families selected to move into the first sets of shelters, Mercy Corps’ partner Peace Winds Japan is working with the local government to provide basic necessities for the transition, such as cooking pots, bedclothes, and money for clothes, soap, and shampoo.