Japan's Triple Disasters Elicit Unique Response from Aid Community

A member of the U.S. Navy hands over boxes of humanitarian relief supplies to a local aid worker in Japan. Photo by: Dylan McCord / U.S. Navy / CC BY

International relief groups’ response to the earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear crisis in Japan is much different and relatively more subdued compared to the mobilization that occured in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Observers say this could be due to quake-prone Japan’s exceptional disaster response capacity.

>> International Community Continues to Back Japan Quake Relief, Rescue Efforts

Global relief agencies recognize that Japan has “probably sufficient capacity” to address the aftermath of the disaster, unlike Haiti, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other developing countries, Oliver Lacey-Hall said, according to the Wall Street Journal. Lacey-Hall heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s Asia and Pacific regional office.

Japan has also not been asking for as much assistance and accepted only a handful of offers from bilateral donors and aid organizations. Most of the offers accepted were for equipment and rescue teams, WSJ says.

Aid organizations, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, are also not sending foreign staff members to the country because they have large bases there manned by local personnel. ICRC said it did not send teams from other countries because the Japanese Red Cross has a 1,000-strong medical staff and can call upon 2 million trained volunteers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Some U.S. organizations say Japan’s escalating nuclear crisis also adds to the trepidation in sending aid workers to Japan.

“You have to ask yourself in this situation: Does my organization really need to have staff in the vicinity?” The Seattle Times quotes InterAction Vice President Joel Charny. “You’re applying a higher threshold because of the potential of a nuclear emergency.”

Travel constraints are likewise hampering efforts to reach survivors in some of the hardest-hit areas, aid agencies said.

U.S. donations

A newspaper tracking donations made to U.S. charities aiding relief work in Japan said U.S. donors have approximately $64 million as of March 16. The Chronicle of Philanthropy says the pace of gathering donations is relatively slower than after the Haiti earthquake but closer to the response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The slower response could partly be because Japan is seen as a self-sufficient country, according to Patrick Rooney of the U.S.-based Center for Philanthropy.

Meantime, some humanitarian workers and experts have raised concern that Japan’s disaster could overshadow slow-burn disasters such as the politically motivated violence in Ivory Coast.

>> Should the Public Donate to Japan?

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.