Survivors in Devastated Island Anxious for Relief
AAR Japan's Emergency Relief Team arrived at Ajishima Island, about two hours by ferry from Port Ishinomaki of Miyagi Prefecture on April 2, 2011.
The island's population is about 500, most of whom are elderly and very few are children. The sea around the island is said to be among the clearest in Northern Japan, and is so rich in fish and shellfish that even amateurs can skin dive in the sea and catch sea food such as sea urchins and abalone. As you can imagine, fishery is the major industry of the island.
The damage inflicted by the tsunami in Ajishima Island is said to be smaller than that of mainland Japan since Ajishima is located off the coast and the tsunami hit the island before its strength further amplified. However, when AAR Japan's Relief Team landed at a port on the island, they found that it was completely shattered; houses piled atop a building that used to be a waiting room, cars blocking staircases leading to a hilltop, and bronze statues scattered, none of which had been cleared up. Most of the small-sized fishing vessels that were at the port were destroyed as well.
While Japan Self-Defense Forces have provided relief supplies to residents, the amount provided was hardly sufficient. In this light, AAR Japan was requested by the residents to bring rice, water, and batteries. The islanders no longer have access to running water since water pipes that connected Ajishima and the mainland were stuck by earthquake and well water on the island is not suitable for drinking. Naturally, they have to rely on the distribution of bottled water and drinking water becomes scarce once the distribution is delayed. Batteries are also vital to their daily lives since electricity is provided only for five hours each morning and evening.
Relaying Kind Thoughts from Individual Supporters and Corporations
AAR Japan's Emergency Relief Team successfully distributed relief supplies including four tons of water, twenty-four boxes full of batteries, clementines, sanitary pads, and underwear. The team was welcomed by about six pickup trucks at the port, one of the islanders even came to me, bowing his head, thanked us, and offered his hands. Though grateful, I duly explained to him that the boxes of supplies were not my personal gift to them but were only made available by kind donations and support from a number of individuals and companies. He was pleasantly surprised by the larger than expected number of supporters and donors. Another islander, while looking at the amount of relief items that almost did not fit in the six pickup trucks, jokingly said that it was one-year worth of supplies.
When I was loading batteries onto one of the trucks, another islander came and said to me "We have been waiting for batteries. Everyone has been anxious for them." They need batteries for their flashlights. While it is beyond my imagination how stressful and challenging their daily lives without sufficient electricity may be, I was truly grateful I was able to provide the supplies to the residents of Ajishima.
Leveraging Our Strength as an NGO in Relief Actions
"I am cleaning this up because I heard that Self-Defense Forces will be coming soon", said a man clearing up a net behind his damaged house. Since heavy debris, such as houses and cars, can be easily cleared only by Self-Defense Forces, equipped with heavy-duty vehicles and tools, perhaps the man was trying to clear up smaller items that he could handle.
Relief efforts from governments, at both national and municipal levels, have reached Ajishima Island but the amount is far from sufficient. I was reminded again that a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) like AAR JAPAN should take full advantage of our strength as an NGO and provide relief efforts to the affected population to the best of our ability.
"I wonder what will become of us…" I overheard two boys saying on my way back to the port. I said to myself that as long as I do this job, voices like these are something I will have to face and respond to.