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2011 Tōhoku Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Response: Anniversary Report


Update: Read our two-year report here

One Year Later: A Report to Donors and Stakeholders

Recovery in Tohoku: Tremendous Challenges, Tremendous Opportunities

Prior to the disaster that befell Tohoku, Japan last March 11, the region had remained relatively unchanged. Known for its traditional Japanese culture and pristine, iconic landscape, Tohoku has since undergone an intense and often challenging process of change. The physical devastation of the tsunami, coupled with the influx of outsiders in the form of volunteers and charitable organizations has permanently altered the social, cultural and physical landscape of Tohoku.

Give2Asia and other organizations have been working for the past year to ensure these changes are of maximum benefit to the affected communities. Along with our local partners, Give2Asia continues to assess both the challenges and opportunities of this disaster relief and recovery process. Now, a year after, we would like to report on our disaster response efforts and the impact made possible by the generous support of our donors.

Basic services are the first priority in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Give2Asia supported five immediate relief projects that provided food, cleaned toxic mud and debris, and protected vulnerable populations from radiation. Immediate relief projects were allotted US$355,620.

Our experience responding to over 30 disasters in the past ten years has taught us that these immediate needs must be balanced with a long-term recovery strategy that confronts the challenges and seizes the available opportunities.

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami, Tohoku was on the leading edge of Japan’s demographic shift. Japan’s population is getting older; and, because of a mass outward migration of young people and a lack of job opportunities, Tohoku was getting old faster than the rest of Japan. This provides two very important opportunities for the region’s recovery. One is that solutions in elderly care implemented in Tohoku are pertinent and applicable throughout Japan. Give2Asia has funded two direct elderly care projects, and another related medical project, totaling US$213,922.

The good will and motivation of young people to help with the recovery process has brought many innovative young minds to Tohoku. This is the second major opportunity for recovery. Their solutions for local issues are revitalizing and diversifying what had been a stagnant fishing and farming economy. Give2Asia granted $400,000 to bring 100 young entrepreneurs and 50 new social ventures to the region.

Most experts are predicting that a full recovery in Tohoku will take a decade or more. Give2Asia is considering grants totaling US$1,143,440 to extend several of our current projects for multiple years, and will disperse the remainder of the funds we received to new projects over the duration of the recovery. See the charts on the next page for more financial information.

Thank you to all those who have given generously to the people of Tohoku over the past year.

Immediate Relief Projects

Give2Asia provided support to local Japanese organizations for relief projects that delivered essential goods in the wake of the disaster, such as food, water, clothing and sanitary supplies.

Second Harvest Japan (2HJ) has operated as a food bank in Tokyo since 2003. Since Give2Asia began to work with 2HJ, the group has made over 100 trips from Tokyo to Tohoku to distribute food to victims. Rather than form a new supply chain to distribute their food, 2HJ partnered with existing food distribution centers in the area, increasing efficiency and decreasing the need for volunteers.

Beyond providing food to survivors, 2HJ helps those living outside temporary shelters in Ishinomaki through its informal community market. This market offers survivors a grocery-shopping experience, giving them the opportunity to select which food and other necessary items they want. Patrons of the market prefer it to receiving food donations because the experience is not one of charity, but one of normalcy.

Based on the anticipated need in the area, 2HJ plans to expand operations in the region for the next two years.

Grant Amount: US$106,000
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California, Keizai Society, Adobe Foundation

Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center (PBV) provides food and removes mud from homes in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. In Onagawa-cho, a fishing village off the peninsula of Ishinomaki, Peace Boat Volunteers removed mud and reconstructed oyster farms for local fishing families. By September 2011, PBV had cleaned most of the town when a strong typhoon struck the region and triggered a mudslide, or “mountain tsunami,” as the locals called it. Toxic mud from the surrounding hills washed down, again covering the village and destroying the rebuilt oyster farms. However, PBV and the local community have not lost hope. Although they had to start from scratch, Peace Boat Volunteers and the locals have almost completed the mud removal and oyster farm construction.

Across Ishinomaki, Peace Boat Volunteers also focuses on reopening ice factories. Ice is crucial to fishing and farming in the area and neither industry is likely to thrive without it. Therefore, PBV is reaching out to corporations, universities and the public to recruit volunteers to clean mud and debris from ice factories in affected communities.

Grant Amount: US$197,620
Funds: Give2Asia, Symantec

The Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan) was disheartened when they visited a local school in Minami-Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture. When the staff entered at lunchtime, they witnessed children eating a meal that consisted of nothing more than a single slice of bread and water. Due to the proximity to the nuclear disaster, delivery trucks refused to bring food to the region and local food production halted because of soil salinity and fear of radiation. Hunger and food scarcity was not limited to the elementary school lunchroom.

With help from Give2Asia, AAR Japan was able to provide food and essential non-food items to the elderly, disabled, and young students in the area. Student lunches were supplemented with extra food, and the elderly and disabled received food packages in addition to wheelchairs and other necessary equipment.

Grant Amount: US$40,000
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Free the Children Japan (FTCJ) also operates in Minami-Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture. Fear of radiation is so prevalent in the region that students and teachers choose to close all doors and windows during the school day. In the summer staff and students sweltered in unventilated rooms creating a frustrating learning environment.

An advised grant enabled FTC Japan to purchase 282 electrical fans for 5,000 students in the region. This simple project turned 7 kindergartens, 10 elementary schools, 5 junior high schools and 2 high schools from saunas back to safe learning environments while also addressing local residents’ fear of radiation poisoning.

Grant Amount: US$12,000
Fund: Japan Society of Northern California

Elderly Care & Medical Projects

Before the disaster, Tohoku was home to one of the oldest populations in Japan, itself one of the oldest countries in the world. Tohoku is on the leading edge of a large nationwide demographic shift and innovative solutions to provide elder care in Tohoku could have significant impact throughout the country.

Rescue Stock Yard (RSY) learned many difficult lessons from working with victims of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. While building and maintaining temporary shelters for victims of that disaster, RSY witnessed an unprecedented rise in depression and suicide amongst survivors. In order to prevent the self-abuse, self-neglect and suicide it saw in Kobe, RSY is focused on meeting the needs of elderly survivors in Tohoku.

Rescue Stock Yard is working in Shichigahama, a town of about 20,000 people that was hit especially hard by the tsunami. A grant from Give2Asia allows 30- 40 volunteers to clean the town and retrofit temporary houses to meet individual needs. Typically this involves adjusting fixtures and handrails, building wheelchair ramps, and performing major and minor repairs.

Meeting the physical needs of the elderly has been easier than meeting their psychological needs. Elderly victims are extremely reluctant to share their emotions with volunteers, but are less shy about talking with one another. To keep a pulse on the communities’ needs, RSY holds community events such as sports and temporary cafes to encourage discussion.

In addition, RSY is planning to rebuild communal life by opening grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, and even a barbershop to provide services and create opportunities for work.

Grant Amount: US$46,320
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Miyagi Mental Health Welfare Association (MMHWA) is affiliated with Tohoku University and has become a leader in the urgent issue of mental health in Tohoku. After the disaster, rates of severe and mild mental illness nearly doubled amongst survivors. However, many people are sensitive about seeking help from psychiatrists and psychologists, and many do not recognize mental illness as a problem. Yet, the problem is pervasive. Reportedly, over 20 percent of elderly people self-neglect or self-abuse, specifically not eating or taking proper care of themselves. The stress of the disaster has increased cases of high-blood pressure, diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For months, clinical psychiatrists and psychologists from MMHWA have been on the ground, providing free mental health services at evacuation and temporary housing centers. In order to ensure long- term care, MMHWA is also implementing a three-year program to provide training for the affected communities, workers and medical professionals in Tohoku. This will educate affected communities on alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and mental health disorder detection and early intervention.

Grant Amount: US$78,390
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Elderly Care & Medical Projects: IMCRA Takes Modern Medicine to the Cloud

International Medical Crisis Response Alliance (IMCRA) is meeting the needs of overworked doctors and under-treated patients throughout the Tohoku region.

In the months immediately following the disaster, providing quality medical care became very difficult. With regional medical facilities damaged or destroyed healthcare providers were – and still are – facing many challenges. In Omori, one mobile medical team had two doctors and three nurses each treating over 200 patients a day. In Ishinomaki, 16 mental health professionals were treating 900 cases of severe mental health disorders such as shock and post- traumatic stress disorder everyday. Moreover, doctors and nurses who wanted to aid survivors were often required to work outside their specialty. This became even more true as the nuclear disaster worsened and radiation became an increasing concern.

IMCRA confronts these challenges with its online medical information exchange platform. This easily-accessed internet portal provides badly-needed medical education and resources to the responders in the region. Doctors, nurses, administrators and even patients are all able to access video modules, ask-the-expert discussions, video-conferencing, and an online reference library, all connecting the nation’s best physicians with its most vulnerable population.

Video modules and other content were created by dozens of experts at seven major medical universities in Japan. They relate to key medical issues facing Tohoku, such as radiation biology, psychiatry, pediatrics, gerontology, pre-natal care, suicide awareness and prevention, cardiovascular malfunction, respiratory issues, and infectious diseases. Most information on the site is currently available in both Japanese and English. Content not currently available bilingually is in the translation process through IMCRA volunteer translators.

Give2Asia has provided support for IMCRA’s three-year program to expand its online platform by adding new resources, increasing translated content, opening the resource to all of Japan, and perhaps replicating its platform for future disasters.

Grant Amount: US$89,220
Funds: Give2Asia

Recovery Projects

Nippon International Cooperation For Community Development (NICCO) improves local business and farming practices to include fair trade, permaculture, and organizational development. NICCO began running a soup kitchen and organizing debris removal in Japan immediately after the disaster.

Though NICCO provided essential goods and services, its mission also includes community building. NICCO coordinates events with premier Michelin Chefs each week in temporary housing sites. The informal group of chefs, called Soul of Tohoku, prepares food using local ingredients for each weekly event. The chefs believe it is their role in the recovery to protect the culture, cuisine and land of Tohoku during the recovery. The Soul of Tohoku events also provide an opportunity for NICCO to offer psychosocial care sessions, occupational therapy and live music.

NICCO is also developing new food products, which will be sold throughout Japan as local specialties and expects to create 400 local jobs with the project.

Grant Amount: US$197,360
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Recovery Projects: NPO Aichi-Net Saves Tanabata Festival

The people of Rikuzentakada have celebrated the Tanabata Festival, or Summer Star Festival, for over 900 years. Despite the disaster 2011 was no different. Each year during the festival the local community pays respect to its ancestors and holds a parade featuring folk music, drummers, floats and costumes. Though the shops and stores that once lined the streets were still in rubble, traditional floats paraded through the town on August 7, with many of its citizens taking part in the procession. Some residents shed tears as they returned home for the first time since the disaster while others offered prayers for victims, survivors and the future of the community.

Despite the fact that all but a single float had been destroyed in the March tsunami, the town was able to reconstruct most of their decorations, floats and costumes in time for the festival.

The Tanabata Festival is typically held in July and August, though the exact date varies from city to city. In Rikuzentakada, an important tradition dictates that a log is attached to the front of two floats and they must attack one other. The city was fortunate that one fighting float survived the tsunami, and that the log from the lost fighting float was found amongst the debris.

As residents are faced with such serious issues as radiation, relocation, and economic revitalization, the Tanabata Festival and other traditions act as touchstones for those who may need a reminder of what exactly is unique and important about this region of Japan, and why recovery efforts must continue.

Grant Amount: US$90,000
Fund: Give2Asia

Economic Revitalization

Economic revitalization is the keystone of long-term recovery. Without a diversity of industries and jobs, disaster-affected communities slide backwards into economic depression and poverty. Before March 11, 2011, Tohoku was already an economically stagnant region of Japan that relied heavily on family-owned fishing and farming. For a successful recovery, Tohoku needs investment in diverse industries and innovative ventures that won’t simply rebuild the region, but will build it back better.

Economic Revitalization: PARCIC Partners with Local Leaders

“My wife and grandson are still missing,” Mr. Sato (Sato-san), a Tohoku fisherman, explained. “The tsunami was estimated at 6 meters, but was actually 20 meters high. My wife, my three brothers and I ran to a place that was 15 meters high because of the report,” said Sato-san (pictured above, left).

“All I remember is holding on as the waves washed over me again and again. When I came to, my wife was missing. That night, I walked through 10 centimeters of snow to my wife’s hometown, but I could not find her.”

In spite of Sato-san’s tragedy, he leads relief and recovery efforts in his community. In coordination with Give2Asia grantee Pacific Asia Resource Center Inter-people’s Cooperation (PARCIC), Sato-san has been working to restore the local fishing industry, which provided a livelihood for 205 families in the area prior to the disaster. PARCIC has established a fishing cooperative in the region and Sato-san was elected by his peers to lead it.

However, Sato-san and the fishing community face many challenges, including lack of equipment and capital, and fears that their fish and seaweed harvest have been contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Before the disaster, local fishermen and fisherwomen (approximately 15-25 percent of Tohoku’s fishing professionals are women) farmed abalone, oysters, scallops and seaweed. With a grant from Give2Asia, PARCIC rebuilt several wakame seaweed farms, which use less equipment and capital than the other farms. For the fishing families, this is a welcome start to regaining their income. PARCIC also markets the produce and tests it for radiation to combat consumer fears. Once the wakame farms are past their first harvest, PARCIC will rebuild the abalone, oyster, and scallop farms. However, this requires more boats – an unmet need in Japan right now.

“Our fishing communities have been trying to get all their tools purchased again,” said Sato-san. “Boats are in high demand and are extremely expensive. Boat producers across Japan are not able to meet demand. We can rebuild our own to a certain degree but it is hard to make good quality boats.”
In spite of the many challenges, Sato-san is optimistic.

“Thanks to Give2Asia, we have been able to prepare for the harvest and rebuild our seaweed farms,” said Sato-san. “I am now more motivated to continue our rebuilding efforts.

Grant Amount: US$160,000
Funds: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Economic Revitalization: It Takes Civic Force to Raise a Village

Civic Force is a Japanese nonprofit organization specializing in domestic disaster response. It was formed following the 2004 Niigata Earthquake crisis and was an early actor in Tohoku relief efforts.

In Karakuwa, an oyster farming community heavily hit by the tsunami, residents have decided to relocate their town to higher ground. In their past location, most houses and offices, as well as all of the oyster farms were destroyed. With an advised grant recommended by the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund, Civic Force is moving the community uphill.

One challenge has been to redevelop the oyster farms so that local families can support themselves through their business. With the grant, Civic Force rebuilt 30 oyster farms (pictured right) that are operated cooperatively by the ten farmers of Karakuwa. Civic Force is also using the oyster farms to educate citizens about the environmental ramifications of the disaster, and how to most effectively continue their aquaculture traditions.

Civic Force plans to use the relocation of Karakuwa as an example for other communities who want to move to higher ground without sacrificing their livelihoods.

Civic Force Grant Amount: US$23,370
Fund: Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund

Economic Revitalization: ETIC Brings Youth Back to Tohoku

Prior to the March 11 disaster, Tohoku had experienced a decades-long drain of young professionals and families. After the disaster, 65,000 more people left the region in a mass exodus; 80 percent of those were under 30-years-old. As a result, Tohoku has become one of the regions with the highest percentage of elderly people in Japan. In some parts of Tohoku over 35 percent of residents are over the age of 65.

To help reverse this trend, create jobs, and catalyze economic activity, Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities (ETIC) leads a program of entrepreneurial mentoring and fellowship. ETIC is identifying 50 promising young leaders with innovative entrepreneurial projects and will assige 100 fellows, two to each of the 50 projects, to support and learn from project leaders. Each fellow must be under 40 years old with professional experience, and commit at least three months to working in the region.

All 50 projects are aimed at developing long-term innovation and enterprise in Tohoku.

ETIC has 39 of the 50 projects already underway and has identified and assigned 63 fellows to project leaders so far. Projects are a mixture of for-profit and non-profit ventures and involve a wide range of recovery activities, including education, community building, healthcare and mental health support, and industrial revitalization.

In Kesennuma, an ETIC fellow is marketing traditional sake and other items throughout Japan to bring more revenue for local businesses. In Tokyo, another fellow is helping a project leader establish and operate a support network for pregnant women from the Fukushima region. Due to fears of radiation, women are leaving their homes for Tokyo, where they are given a safe place to stay and medical treatment. So far, the network has helped 300 women give birth safely. Most do not return to Fukushima. Other innovative projects selected by ETIC include Give2Asia grantees Eat and Energize the East, and Katariba.

As important as ETIC’s breadth of projects is their ability to bring Tohoku natives back home. Ideal ETIC fellows are young people from Tohoku, who left to become professional successes and want to return to be a part of the region’s recovery. So far, over 20 percent of the fellows are originally from Tohoku. ETIC expects to run this program in Tohoku for the next two years.

Grant Amount: US$400,000
Fund: Give2Asia, Corning Foundation

Meet the Entrepreneurs: ETIC in Tohoku

“One thing I really want to hear is people speak about Tohoku ten years later like March 11 was a turning point of not only Tohoku but for Japan. Tohoku should be some kind of ground zero for Japanese social entrepreneurs. So that kind of situation would mean all kinds of new jobs and new kinds of public services. All brought on by the disaster. That’s why we are sending so many young people to the disaster area.”
– Yoshi Ishikawa-san, Research Division Manager, ETIC

Tsutomo Tamakawa lived in Tohoku for 22 years and earned his bachelor’s degree in law from Tohoku University before he left his home for the greener professional pastures of Tokyo. In the capital, Tamakawa-san earned a job with Asahi Glass Co. Ltd., where he travelled the world developing innovative new businesses including an international consortium within the semiconductor industry.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck, Tamakawa-san had been in Tokyo for two years. At the age of 24, he left his job to join ETIC as its representative in Miyagi prefecture. One year later, he still has no office and must travel between Tokyo and Tohoku several times a month. Himself a boomeranged native, his job is to identify other prodigal sons and daughters with the experience and expertise to rebuild Tohoku.

As a young, successful professional Tamakawa-san is an example for ETIC’s fellows and project managers, embodying ETIC’s recovery strategy – returning young people and revitalizing the economy through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Rina Sasaki is a 23- year-old ETIC fellow from Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas badly damaged by the tsunami. Sasaki-san graduated from college four months before the disaster, and like many from Tohoku, she left the region to find a job. Also like many young people, she returned to help rebuild her community.

As an ETIC fellow, she works with another entrepreneur, Yasuhiro Watanabe, a former engineer at a Japanese manufacturing company. The pair are working for Guru Guru Ouen-dan, a social enterprise that provides on-demand transportation services to elderly residents living in temporary housing. This collaboration between Guru Guru Ouen-dan and Community Taxi, Inc. was recently selected as one of the “Social Business Know-How Replication Projects” by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Economic Revitalization: Social Enterprises

Long-term recovery means bringing back industry, kickstarting the local economy, and providing jobs and infrastructure. Experts are currently predicting that this phase of Tohoku’s recovery could take a decade or more. To confront the challenges of long-term recovery, Give2Asia has made grants to social enterprises, hybrids of businesses and nonprofits that exist to benefit communities both through services and by catalyzing economic activity. Both of these projects are also connected with Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities through its fellowship program (See Economic Revitalization).

Eat and Energize the East was started in direct response to the March 11 disasters. This social enterprise is reviving the agricultural industry in Tohoku by connecting farming and fishing communities with food service providers and retailers outside Japan.

EEE supports its operations by charging members of its distribution chain such as retailers, restaurants and other food service providers seven million yen (approximately US$1,250) per year to increase their sustainability and ensure the safety of their food. Farmers and fishers in Tohoku receive EEE services free of charge.
Tohoku’s economy has been hit hard by nation-wide fears of radiation in its food. Eat and Energize the East has partnered with Oisix, an online grocery store, and Professor James Smith of Emory University, an expert in nuclear energy and radiation, to test local Tohoku agricultural products for radiaton. Prof. Smith is an international leader in radiation testing and will be refining their protocol for long-term cost-effective radiation testing while working with EEE. Through this process, Oisix and EEE are rebuilding consumer confidence in an important Tohoku industry.

Grant Amount: US$140,650
Fund: Give2Asia, Japan Society of Northern California

Katariba, which means “place for sharing,” is a community based after-school project that helps children achieve their academic ambitions. The tsunami destroyed many educational institutions in Tohoku, including public schools, private academies and tutoring services. To replace these, as well as utilize the collective resources of unemployed educators and administrators, Katariba brings together teachers, principals, students and parents to create a collaborative learning environment.

The first collaborative school opened in Onagawa on July 4, 2011 and provides free classes to 208 students every day. Katariba is working closely with the Onagawa Town School Board, the Onagawa Committee for Increasing the Scholastic Abilities, and other stakeholders to ensure the long-term success of the school. An advised grant from Give2Asia, made possible by Bank of America – Merrill Lynch, will support the establishment of Katariba’s second collaborative school, which will be built in Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture.

Grant Amount: US$594,060
Fund: Bank of America – Merrill Lynch

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