The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit north-eastern Japan has left thousands of children without homes and in desperate need of essential supplies, medical and psychosocial support. By Mihoko Nakagawa
Almost 10,000 people have died since the disaster struck two weeks ago, with nearly 15,000 still missing. More than 260,000 people have been evacuated, including an estimated 49,000 children.
UNICEF and Japan in partnership
In response, the Japan Committee for UNICEF has been making a concerted effort to help affected children and their families by mobilizing its well-established network of partners, including the private sector, schools, religious groups and volunteers.
The Committee has received generous donations of supplies including bottled water, clothing, diapers and toys, some of which have already been distributed.
“Our partners demonstrated incredible commitment in this most difficult time for Japan,” said Ken Hayami, Executive Director of the Japan Committee for UNICEF. “We cannot thank them more.”
The Co-op, one of the Committee’s long-standing partners, has retail branches in the affected areas. Although their own business and employees have been seriously affected by the earthquake and tsunami, they have been very active in transporting supplies to shelters.
“We are sincerely hoping that our children regain their peace of mind as quickly possible,” said Yoshimasa Kato, President of the Co-op Iwate. “If the under-wears and toys we deliver to them with the Japan Committee for UNICEF can help, we would be more than happy.”
The situation in Japan remains fluid with evacuees often moving from shelter to shelter on a daily basis. Working with local government, the Japan Committee for UNICEF has conducted a rapid needs assessment on the ground to better support children.
Many youngsters are still coming to terms with what has happened, particularly being separated from their family and friends.
“I feel sad and depressed from watching TV reporting the aftermath of the earthquake at the shelter over and over,” says a young girl more used to going to her fifth grade class at her local school. “I really want to play with friends.”
Then there are those coping with bereavement as well as basic needs in the shelters.
“I lost my husband and do not know what to do at the moment,” says one women, who is now staying at the shelter with her baby and three-year-old child. “Privacy is not secured here, and it is really difficult to breast-feed my child.”
The Committee is mobilizing assistance in the areas of maternal and child health, education and psychosocial support. Early childhood development kits have arrived from UNICEF’s warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, and experts in child protection are being drafted in.
New partnerships are also being actively sought to fill gaps in expertise as the situation unfolds.
“I am also grateful that everybody – our partners, the Japanese people and our friends around the world – is supporting our efforts in various ways,” said Mr. Hayami.
Many children have lost parents and friends, or gone through traumatic experiences, which will require special types of support. The Japan Committee for UNICEF is dedicated to fulfilling the rights of children, even in an emergency setting.
The Committee is being helped by young volunteers from other regions in Japan who have travelled to affected areas in order to help with relief efforts, including taking care of elderly evacuees and preparing meals.