Yoshiharu Shiraishi from the Japan Association of Charitable Organisations (JACO) and a member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) hosted by CIVICUS wrote this reflection on civil society and the post-disaster reconstruction in Japan.
The 9.0 Mw earthquake that hit northeast Japan on 11 March 2011 was one of the strongest recorded in the history of earthquakes and later generated a 38.9m high tsunami which caused untold damage in a wide range of coastal areas, including two nuclear power plants located in the Fukushima prefecture. The damage to the nuclear plants led to severe radiation leaks which posed serious threats to the health of citizens. Close to four months after the disaster struck the country, a total of about 15,429 people are confirmed dead, 7,781 are still missing and approximately 85,277 are currently living in evacuation centres built to cater for those displaced and with relatives living in other parts of the country. Like the earthquake that hit Christchurch in New Zealand, the response from civil society and volunteers in rescuing trapped citizens and in the reconstruction process has been overwhelming.
The role of CSOs in reconstruction efforts in Japan
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, Japanese civil society sprang into action. On 24 March 2011, the Japanese Civil Network for Disaster Relief (JCN) (www.jpn-civil.net) was established with project managers from 21 leading charitable and voluntary organisations in Japan, including fellow AGNA member the Japanese Association for Charitable Organisations (JACO). JCN works with rescue teams in affected areas in collaboration with members of parliament, government ministries and agencies. The network currently boasts approximately 560 members drawn from charitable and voluntary organisations.
Three days after the earthquake, JACO launched an Emergency Relief Fund to provide support to social welfare organisations and NGOs working in areas affected by the disasters. Other local organisations like the Miyagi Recovery Assistance Centre (MRAC), a regional relief network composed of voluntary organisations, provide assistance in transporting aid materials, donations to other voluntary organisations and provide interpreters for a call centre to facilitate communication between local citizens, networks and volunteers from abroad.
What happens next?
According to the Cabinet Secretariat’s Volunteers Coordination Office, more than 400,000 people have volunteered in relief efforts since the earthquake and tsunami. However, in the most affected areas in northeast Japan, there is need for more action in the long term and some areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami are experiencing decreasing numbers of volunteers. It has been predicted that much of the work, which has so far focused on cleaning the rubble in the streets, will end in July and efforts will be concentrated in other ways to assist those affected after July, such as on the rebuilding and reconstruction of the areas destroyed and providing long-term solutions to the thousands of citizens affected by the disaster.