The Relief Effort in Japan

Sailors aboard USS Ronald Reagan move food and water onto helicopter for Japan relief. U.S. Navy photo by Commuication Specialist Apprentice Michael Feddersen.

As search and rescue operations continue in Japan, relief efforts are under way by military and Red Cross teams. Nongovernmental organizations with medical personnel are sending doctors and nurses. U.S. religious NGOs have announced they will enter after their Asian and Japanese counterparts determine needs and make requests.

Church World Service reports on its website that it will work with the Japan Platform, a consortium of 32 non-governmental organizations, government service agencies and media outlets. The platform members are assessing how to respond. In addition, CWS, which has had a presence in Southeast Asia since before the war in Vietnam, says it will work through its Southeast Asia Regional Office with individual members of the Japan Platform.

The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, which has a small number of missionary personnel in Japan, issued a statement saying the board was praying for Japan and awaiting further word on how to proceed. The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the relief, refugee and development arm of the board, was similarly assessing how to respond under the difficult circumstances.

As I write this, no word has been issued by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church about how church-related colleges and universities with which it works in Japan have been affected.

The complex circumstances involved in this disaster make response immensely more difficult for even the most experienced organizations. The destruction of infrastructure by the earthquake and tsunami, plus the nuclear reactor crisis, makes it unique. These complications are challenging even the well-implemented disaster response capacity of the Japanese government.

Fortunately, most of the nations of Southeast Asia are technologically advanced and have persons with the skills necessary to cope with humanitarian needs. This, coupled with material aid closer to the scene, means that logistics of aid delivery can be more timely and less complicated than delivery from the United States and Europe.

Clearly, the rehabilitation of Japan will require long-term commitment. This is a strength of most of the U.S. religious non-governmental organizations and their constituencies. As the drama of Japan unfolds, it’s wise to contribute cash for the immediate humanitarian needs while also keeping an eye on the future and how we can contribute to the rehabilitation of the country when these various channels open.

2 Responses to “The Relief Effort in Japan”

  1. Mark West March 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Why should people contribute to UMCOR or any other agency that still doesn’t know how they’re going to spend the money? Wouldn’t this be a good time to urge people to give undesignated money to relief groups? If we trust them with our money we should trust them to make the right decisions. Otherwise money will pile up for Japan, without UMCOR knowing what they’re going to do with it, as it has with Haiti (how much of the $43 million has been spent so far?). Or you could have written about what constitutes vulnerability, and what we have to learn from the Japanese. You missed a good opportunity to broaden the discussion and enlighten us, Larry.

  2. Antonieta Delarue March 24, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Those seem like good questions. Yet unfortunately, at least in the case of Haiti, Larry’s news agency hasn’t asked them. We gave UMCOR a lot of money in response to the tragedy in Haiti, and all we get are vague stories about its use. UMCOR is great at marketing, and Sam Dixon’s tragic death helped them raise tons of money for Haiti. But where has the money gone? We know it’s a complicated situation with such a dysfunctional government to work with, but trying to push all that money through an equally dysfunctional Haitian Methodist Church and a paternalistic VIM program doesn’t seem like wise stewardship. Let’s raise those questions, Larry, and stop being just a cheerleader for purposefully vague marketing strategies. Maybe Japan could be an opportunity for you to turn a page…

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