UNICEF deploying Japanese experts to help with disaster response

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, triggered a devastating tsunami and, in turn, a near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The death toll is estimated at more than 9,400, almost 15,000 people remain unaccounted for, and some 300,000 are homeless in freezing temperatures. This report from Chris Niles, UNICEF.

UNICEF staff member Miho Fukuhara talks about deploying to Japan with several other UNICEF staffers from that country to help with disaster response in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami there.

Needs assessment

UNICEF Intergovernmental Affairs Officer Miho Fukuhara, who is based at UNICEF headquarters in New York, is one of 8Japanese experts who’ve have been deployed from their posts in countries around the world—including Somalia and Afghanistan—to work with the Japan Committee for UNICEF as it offers support to the Japanese people.

“It’s just so sad to see the situation,” she said. “The size of the tragedy is big—1/3 of Japan has been affected and we have a problem with the nuclear plant too, so it’s a matter for all Japanese.”

tsunami, in Rikuzen-Takaata
Neena Sasaki, age 5, surveys the wreckage of her home, which was destroyed by the March 11, tsunami, in Rikuzen-Takaata, a small town in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. | © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0427/Dean

Fukuhara will join UNICEF Japan’s field team as it assesses needs and offers technical assistance in the earthquake-stricken region. UNICEF is providing children’s clothing and toys donated by its partner, IKEA. The organization has also sent “School in a Box” kits, recreation kits and early childhood development kits from its main supply warehouse in Copenhagen.

Impact on children

A medical worker tests a young man for radioactive contamination in an emergency evacuation center for people living near the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. | © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0431/Dean

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0431/Dean

A medical worker tests a young man for radioactive contamination in an emergency evacuation center for people living near the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

School will resume in the affected areas in April. UNICEF’s chief concern is to help ensure that children’s education is uninterrupted and that they receive psychological support to recover from the events they have experienced.

“What we can do as an international agency is to support the children who’ve been traumatized by this catastrophe,” said Fukuhara. “We also have to start to think about the medium and longer term, how to minimize the impact of the tragedy, especially for children.”

The Japan Committee for UNICEF was founded in 1955 and has grown to become a leading force for child rights in Japan and around the world. UNICEF also maintains a headquarters office in Tokyo to coordinate advocacy and communication work with government policy makers.