Three weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan, International Medical Corps' Emergency Response Team is establishing local partnerships, while continuing to fill essential supply gaps and provide logistical and technical support where needed most.
Since arriving in Japan on March 13, International Medical Corps has assessed the post-disaster needs of isolated coastal communities north of Sendai, including Ogatsu-machi, Minami-Sanriku, Kesennuma, Riken-Takata, East Matsushima, and areas north of Ishinomaki.
In these assessments, International Medical Corps has identified mental health as a critical need, as fatigue, stress, and insomnia are reported among many evacuees. An increasing number of children are developing asthma, mumps, and pneumonia in Minami-Sanriku evacuation centers, some of which is thought to be the result of stress. Meantime, high levels of anxiety are also prevalent outside of the affected areas as a result of radiation fears.
In response, International Medical Corps has partnered with Tokyo English Life Line (TELL), to enhance their ability to provide psychosocial services to survivors. International Medical Corps will be supporting the telephone counseling services with trainings in Psychological First Aid, computer equipment, and technical support, as well as helping educate communities about available services through handouts and workshops.
International Medical Corps has also partnered with Peace Boat to support affected communities and those who chose to stay in their homes, rather than go to evacuation centers. Peace Boat, which provides hot meals, non-food items, cleaning services, and other community support activities, has a large number of volunteers and International Medical Corps will work to increase their capacity with supplies, communications equipment, technology, logistical and possibly technical support in health promotion and reconstruction.
Supplies of food and water are now generally improving in the evacuation centers, but some specific food items and medications are still needed. In response, International Medical Corps' team is delivering packaged baby foods and medications, including nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops, to evacuation centers and local agencies and plans to distribute more as needed. International Medical Corps also provided computers and data cards to improve coordination among Miyagi prefecture offices, regional coordination centers, and evacuation centers.
While Japan has significant capacity to manage emergencies, the magnitude of this disaster – coupled with the threat of nuclear exposure – compelled international assistance. International Medical Corps is providing logistical support and technical expertise to local health authorities based on more than 25 years of experience in disaster response, including following the 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The 9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that buried many northern towns in a wall of water. More than 12,000 are dead and 15,500 are missing, while another 206,000 people are living in more than 2,000 evacuation centers. International Medical Corps has been a leading responder to emergencies in more than 50 countries, including the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 2010 Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods.
Since its inception nearly 25 years ago, International Medical Corps' mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance.