AmeriCares is awarding $1 million in aid for disabled survivors as well as relief workers suffering from work-related stress and depression in Japan. The announcement comes on the eve of the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake and tsunami. The $1 million in new projects is in addition to the $3.2 million in aid AmeriCares delivered in the first 12 months after the disaster.
The aid organization plans to build a new group home for disabled survivors in Ofunato City, a fishing town in Iwate Prefecture, to replace a facility washed away by the tsunami. All of the residents survived and have been living in temporary housing or with relatives who cannot care for them long-term. AmeriCares is also building a replacement headquarters for the only social service agency serving the disabled in northeastern Miyagi Prefecture and funding counseling for relief workers grappling with stress, grief and depression.
“One year later, the needs are still astounding,” said AmeriCares President and CEO Curt Welling. “While some progress has been made on the physical recovery – clearing debris and wreckage from the streets – it will take years to fully recover and help survivors cope with the trauma of loss.”
The March 11, 2011 disaster left 20,000 people dead or missing, wiped out entire communities along the island nation’s northeastern coast, and caused widespread panic about the effect of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. AmeriCares immediately responded with deliveries of relief supplies, including medicines for Tohoku University Hospital and personal hygiene items for evacuees living in shelters. As survivors moved into temporary housing, AmeriCares eased the transition by providing hot meals, space heaters for apartments with no central heating and counseling programs to help survivors struggling with grief, depression and loneliness. The aid organization also built two dental clinics to replace health care facilities destroyed in the disaster.
A large portion of AmeriCares Japan relief work focuses on meeting the mental health needs of survivors. In coastal towns washed away by the tsunami, the organization is helping survivors plant vegetable gardens where their homes once stood, giving them a meaningful activity and hope for the future, and providing counseling and support for children who lost siblings.
“Much like our work in the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina, our Japan aid program is repairing the damage that’s not readily visible,” Welling said. “We’re helping isolated and lonely survivors at risk of suicide and depression.”
AmeriCares, which opened an office in Sendai in 2011 to oversee its relief efforts, anticipates working in Japan for at least another two years. AmeriCares has provided medical relief and humanitarian assistance to millions affected by natural disasters and man-made crises around the world for 30 years, including the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan.