Emergencies

2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief

Impact and Recovery

  • The magnitude-9.0 Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster struck northern Japan, killing over 16,000 people and leaving an estimated 3,000 missing. More than 5,400 people were injured and over 34,000 evacuated.
  • Of the $6 million in contributions received by JACL and Direct Relief or Japan earthquake and tsunami relief, 92% has been granted to Japanese organizations and 8% has been spent on program management and oversight.

In Focus

Local Organizations for Local Response

On March 11, 2011, the 9.0-magnitude Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster struck northern Japan. It was the strongest known earthquake to ever hit Japan, creating tsunami waves that reached an astonishing height of 133 feet and traveled as far as six miles inland. Direct Relief partnered with organizations on the ground to aid in ongoing efforts to rebuild and recover.

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011
Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011 (Direct Relief photo)

Immediately following the disaster, Direct Relief and the Japanese American Citizens League established the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund, committing 100 percent of all contributions to be used exclusively to help people in Japan in the most productive, efficient manner possible. JACL, which was founded in 1929, is the oldest and largest Asian-American civil-rights organization in the U.S. and also operates one of its 100-plus chapters in Tokyo.

Floyd Mori, then–National Executive Director and CEO of JACL, said, “We are happy for this opportunity to partner with a superior organization such as Direct Relief, whose record of efficiency is second to none. Many of our collaborative human and civil-rights organizations will be supporting this relief effort. We are happy to provide an avenue for funds that will go directly to help stricken victims of the disaster, many who are friends and family to our membership.”

“Direct Relief’s long experience in emergency response and efficient, transparent use of donated funds and JACL’s extensive network both within the United States and in Japan will ensure that resources made available for this crisis are well managed, well spent, and used in the most productive manner possible,” said Direct Relief President and CEO Thomas Tighe.

On March 15, 2011, Direct Relief additionally committed an initial $600,000 to the effort and made $15 million in medical inventory available for trauma care, along with care for health conditions from injuries and exposure.

By March 21, 2011, the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund was able to make an initial cash transfer of $400,000 to the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, representing 25 percent of the Japan-designated funds the organization had raised to that point. This initial infusion of cash from the JACL–Direct Relief fund was made possible by thousands of individual donations and a $500,000 grant from Amgen. The transfer replenished funds that AAR Japan had expended on extensive emergency-relief operations. This allowed the organization to continue and expand its urgently needed emergency activities in Miyagi Prefecture, which were focused on people with disabilities and elderly individuals affected by the earthquake, the resulting tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear power plant damage.

The organization subsequently partnered with 20 NBA players represented by Wasserman Media Group to raise funds and awareness for the organization’s efforts. Some players committed a set donation, while others donated $1,000 per point scored during their games on March 25 through 27, 2011. Players from 16 NBA teams ultimately showed their support. The Wasserman Foundation donated an additional $100,000 to the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund.

Direct Relief joined JACL, the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, and legislators in the California State Assembly, including then–Speaker John A. Pérez and then–Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani, in encouraging all Californians to lend a hand during Japan’s time of need. At that time, Cost Plus World Market announced it would donate 100 percent of net proceeds from sales of its products produced in Japan to Direct Relief, to aid in the ongoing relief efforts.

The Approach

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011
Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 2011

Consistent with both organizations’ missions, the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund has been used exclusively to support local Japanese organizations responding to the disaster. All contributions received for the fund have been used exclusively to help people in Japan, supporting local Japanese organizations caring for the most vulnerable people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Special focus has been placed on assisting people with disabilities and those who are elderly. Local organizations are the first responders, have the most at stake, and will be there long after the headlines fade.

Grass-roots organizations working in an emergency often fly under the radar of media attention, and therefore do not attract many resources generously made available to help in response efforts. They are, however, at the heart of the work being done to save lives and repair communities. JACL and Direct Relief leveraged the generous attention received after the earthquake and tsunami by passing funding and resources on to small, grass-roots Japanese groups.

Organizations supported, such as AAR Japan, responded immediately after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. They dispatched emergency teams and providing essential nonfood supplies including diesel, kerosene, water, sanitary products, sleeping bags, and batteries, as well as some food staples, including fruit, rice, milk, and tea. AAR Japan alone supported up to 20 institutions, evacuation camps, and schools that had become a temporary shelter for displaced residents.

On April 5, 2011, Direct Relief and JACL announced the disbursement of an additional $1 million in grants to 5 more organizations: the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation, Services for the Health in Asian & African Regions, Shanti Volunteer Association, Shapla Neer, and Japan International Volunteer Center. The emergency initiatives were approved following intensive review and consultations in Japan among the Japanese groups’ leaders, Mori of JACL, Direct Relief’s Director of International Programs Brett Williams, and faculty of Meiji Gakuin University. The additional projects and organizations funded were selected for their efforts to assist vulnerable people — such as the elderly who are homebound in difficult-to-reach areas — as well as their critically important work in coordinating private relief efforts with local government agencies.

Later grants through AAR Japan and Shanti Volunteer Association, among other organizations, supported long-term recovery programs and other initiatives. SVA supported remodeling a mobile library vehicle that served 150 households in Iwate Prefecture on the tsunami-affected coast, for instance, and AAR Japan assisted with repairs at Nakata Sun Farm that helped 22 employees, including 11 people with disabilities, return to work.

Tracking Progress and Aid Delivered

Direct Relief and JACL have channeled the funds to Japanese nonprofit organizations providing relief and recovery services. These organizations have worked across the tsunami-affected areas on activities ranging from immediate emergency-response feeding and shelter programs to long-term recovery and specialized rehabilitative care for seniors and people with disabilities.

On March 9, 2012, Direct Relief and JACL released an interactive map that provides both a comprehensive overview of tsunami inundation areas and specific site-level information. The map includes data on expenditures, activities, rationale, and progress related to the work conducted by the in-country nongovernmental partner organizations, supported by the jointly administered Direct Relief-JACL fund. More than 250 supported project sites are represented on the map. Detailed overviews and metrics for each funded organization and program can be found on our Japanese relief partner pages.

Ultimately, Direct Relief provided more than $5.5 million in grants to 13 Japanese aid groups, which can be viewed on the interactive map. Multiple groups and delegations from the organization have traveled to Japan throughout the ongoing relief efforts to assess work in progress by local nonprofits. The organization has supported communities in wide-ranging efforts targeted toward improving residents’ psychological health, expanding public knowledge of radiation issues, protecting children from radiation, providing technology programs and learning activities to children in Fukushima Prefecture, rebuilding playgrounds and community spaces in areas significantly damaged, and more.

In addition, the organizational relationships fostered during relief efforts in Japan, such as with the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation, helped strengthen the Ebola response by partners in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea starting in mid-2014. JANIC’s coordination efforts and strong ties to hundreds of stakeholders and local nonprofits in Japan’s Tōhoku region, such as Church World Service Japan, offered a way to source personal protective equipment. Local governments had acquired stores of this equipment in 2009 during avian flu outbreaks. The City of Yokohama, Japan, for instance, was able to donate 60,000 full sets of basic protective gear (including gloves, gowns, goggles, face shields, shoe covers, and masks) to Direct Relief for Ebola protection.

Spending Japan Relief Funds

Of the $6 million in contributions received by JACL and Direct Relief for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief, 92 percent has been granted to Japanese organizations and 8 percent has been spent on program management and oversight, including the hiring of local staff to audit the relief work of grantee organizations.

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