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USAID/OFDA East Asia and Pacific Newsletter - March/April 2011

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DISASTER RESPONSE

USAID/OFDA Responds to Disasters in Japan

In March, Japan was hit with the worst natural disaster in the country’s history when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the eastern coast of the island of Honshu, triggering tsunami waves that reached as high as 78 feet in some areas. The tsunami caused widespread damage, destroying entire villages, killing approximately 14,600 people, leaving more than 11,000 others missing, and displacing hundreds of thousands of individuals.
Compounding the situation, the tsunami disrupted the power supply to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, leading to a serious nuclear incident.

As information trickled in on the full extent of the damages, USAID was already in the process of deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and activating two urban search and rescue (USAR) teams to Japan—two of the first international USAR teams to arrive in the country. In anticipation of critical needs stemming from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the DART included nuclear experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). USAID also activated a Washington, D.C.,-based Response Management Team to support the team in Japan.

Recognizing the strong capacity of the Government of Japan (GoJ) and relief agencies to meet humanitarian needs on the ground, the DART focused its activities on supporting the USAR teams, facilitating nuclear coordination with the GoJ, and creating strategic linkages between the various agencies working on the ground, including the U.S. Military, relief agencies, the GoJ, and the private sector, to ensure that resources available incountry reached affected individuals.

“We’re working closely with the GoJ on all aspects of the response,” said DART leader and USAID/OFDA South Asia Principal Regional Advisor Bill Berger. “We’re using resources from across the U.S. Government (USG) to meet needs as they evolve,” Berger added.

In the critical days after the earthquake and tsunami struck, the two U.S. USAR teams, including 144 personnel and 12 canines, scoured two hard-hit coastal communities for potential survivors. After completing the search and rescue assignments, the USAR teams transferred equipment valued at nearly $145,000, including zodiac boat kits, fuel tanks, kerosene heaters, cots, and sleeping bags, to the Ofunato City Fire Department to augment Japanese rescue capacity and replace items lost during the tsunami.

DART nuclear experts from the NRC and DoE have met regularly with and provided technical advice to Japanese officials on the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
As the situation evolved, DoE and NRC experts provided equipment and training to Japanese counterparts, and the DART worked with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to establish a system for vetting requests for U.S. assistance. Through the DART, USAID/OFDA provided 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment to the GoJ to help protect personnel working near the nuclear exclusion zone.

With the outpouring of assistance following the disasters, the DART quickly recognized a need for transportation and coordination of humanitarian supplies provided by various agencies, such as private companies and relief organizations, rather than funding for additional materials. Working with the GoJ and the U.S. Military, the DART helped to ensure that the supplies offered by agencies were appropriate and reached the areas in need of assistance. To date, the USG has contributed more than $95 million in response to the disasters in Japan.