One year after tsunami, focus is on long-term economic recovery

Japan, March 1, 2012

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Less than one year after Japan’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Mercy Corps is working to revitalize the badly damaged local economy in the disaster zone. The powerful earthquake left 20,000 people dead or missing, and decimated the local economy and infrastructure.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, Mercy Corps, in partnership with the Japanese aid organization Peace Winds Japan, improved the lives of over 150,000 survivors through initial emergency assistance, and psychosocial and youth support programs.

The agency subsequently shifted focus towards economic recovery through microfinance tools, job creation and providing support to the local fishing industry. “The economies in these fishing towns were destroyed to their core a year ago,” said Tokyo-based Randy Martin, Mercy Corps’ Director at Large for East Asia. “We are helping small businesses reopen their doors and provide jobs and services to fractured communities – it is a crucial hurdle to overcome before any rebuilding can begin here,” Martin continued.

In partnership with microfinance institution PlaNet Finance, Mercy Corps is helping local entrepreneurs who lost their businesses to reopen, and provide vital services to depleted communities. These revitalized entrepreneurs also create jobs to help economic recovery in a region where over 70 percent of businesses were destroyed.

With contributions from World Vision and NVIDIA Corporation, Mercy Corps is providing businesses with start-up and re-employment grants, as well as tax-subsidized loans. This microfinance assistance – previously unheard of in Japan – allows approximately 20 small business owners each month to open the doors to their bakeries, day cares, steel mills and fish shops.

To spur the fishing industry – the lifeblood of Japanese coastal towns – Mercy Corps, with support from Xylem, donated equipment and provided money to the tsunami-destroyed fish hatchery in the town of Minamisanriku. As a result, five million salmon that were hatched there this winter will be released into the local coastal waters, and available for catch in four years, netting overall impact worth over $10 million per year to the area.

Through a grant from Walmart, Mercy Corps donated $900,000 worth of equipment to help resuscitate the crucial wakame seaweed industry. Today, 400 women in Minamisanriku are again able to work as seaweed processors after having lost their jobs and all equipment in the tsunami.

“As hard as it is, the people here are motivated to resume their lives but they need opportunities to do so - to regain employment, to recreate their communities again. It is going to be a long haul,” says Martin.

Mercy Corps raised $14 million for the recovery efforts in Japan. The organization expects to continue to support small business recovery in Tohoku through the end of 2013.

Read the full One-Year Progress Report.