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New Friendships and Help Forged Amidst Massive Tragedy

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On March 11, 2011 the most devastating earthquake and tsunami in the country’s history hit Japan’s northeastern coastline causing unimaginable death and destruction.

Three years earlier on May 12, 2008 an equally calamitous tremor shook China’s Sichuan Province. More than 87,000 persons were killed or missing, 46 million people were affected and five million homes were destroyed.

But amidst the twin tragedies, new friendships and a helping hand between both countries were forged.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake Japan sent a disaster relief team of rescue workers, medical staff and other experts to help victims.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which acts as the secretariat of the Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) system, then began planning more long term rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastated Chinese hinterland by instigating a series of projects.

Many of the earthquake victims were killed because the majority of buildings in the region were not earthquake resistant and they simply collapsed under the impact of the 7.9 strong tremor.

Exactly one year after the impact, JICA began a four-year project to train structural engineers and government officials on how to build more effective anti-tremor buildings.

A second JICA five-year program launched around the same time is training mental health care workers to help victims overcome their traumas. In the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake which killed an estimated 6,400 people in Japan’s Kobe region in 1995, a painful lesson was learned that many survivors needed mental health support to overcome the loss of family, friends and homes.

Both projects train key personnel in Japan and China and they in turn act as instructors for other local officials in China.

Not only buildings were devastated during the earthquake but huge swathes of forests were destroyed and massive landslides were triggered. In 2010 JICA experts began transferring mountain management technology and introducing new methods to halt landslides and mudslides in affected areas.

Another project is helping to strengthen the organizational and rescue skills of Chinese officials. Training programs have already been held in four provinces and are being expanded to other provinces.

But when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan China was among many countries which responded to Japan’s immediate needs. Among members of a Chinese rescue team was Hu Jie, an instructor of the National Earthquake Response Support Service (NERSS) who earlier had participated in JICA’s project in China.

“I could now use the rescue and safety management technology and training learned earlier from Japanese experts,” he said. “A joint operation with Japan’s fire brigade went very smoothly.”

In addition to the current projects in China, Japan for many years has been involved in many disaster prevention and management projects around the world.

But the events in China and then Japan itself, underline how interlinked the world is becoming, particularly in the face of tragedy.