Western Japan Flooding – 500,000 Volunteers Ultimately NeededLocal governments request specialist staff, The Nippon Foundation announces support totaling 10 billion yen

The Nippon Foundation held a press conference on July 9 to announce its emergency support for the areas of western Japan recently damaged by flooding and mudslides. The Foundation will provide support for the activities of NGOs and volunteer organizations working in the area, temporary, hygienic toilets to evacuation centers, and condolence monies to the families of persons who died in the disaster. The heavy rain struck a wide area, causing damage in 11 prefectures. The Nippon Foundation estimates that more than 500,000 volunteers will ultimately be needed to assist with the cleanup and recovery. Local governments in the area have requested that other local governments in areas with experience responding to natural disasters, including the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March 2011, send specialist staff to assist with the response, and expressway tolls are being waived for NGOs and volunteer organizations sending people and supplies to the area.

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The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa speaks to the media at the July 9 press conference at The Nippon Foundation headquarters in Tokyo

Specifically, The Nippon Foundation plans to assist with the installation of temporary, hygienic toilets and cardboard beds to prevent deaths at evacuation centers and among people confined to their damaged homes, and the dispatching of medical and social welfare volunteers to strengthen support for older persons, persons with disabilities, and young children. Roughly 1,000 toilets, which proved useful in the aftermath of the series of earthquakes that struck Kumamoto in April 2016, had already been sent by the time of the press conference.

The Foundation intends to give support in amounts from 500,000 yen to three million yen to NGOs and volunteer organizations, with specific amounts corresponding to each organization’s activities. Personnel with specialist skills or expertise, including people licensed to operate heavy equipment, are being urgently sent to the area, and the Foundation will work with local social welfare councils to open and operate disaster response volunteer centers. The final amount of support is expected to total roughly 10 billion yen. The Nippon Foundation has begun collecting donations, and asks for the public’s cooperation in a broad range of areas.

The Nippon Foundation has been involved in disaster response and recovery operations 58 times, beginning with the major earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995. Through these activities, we have built up a network of NGOs and disaster-response volunteer organizations, and the estimate of 500,000 volunteers being needed is based on this experience.

Amid talk of global warming and unusual weather, the heavy rains that struck northern Kyushu in July 2017 were considered a once-in-10-year event, but events of this scale are occurring more frequently. Nevertheless, this event was unusual both for the amount of rain that fell and for the wide area – encompassing 11 prefectures – that experienced damage. Speaking at the press conference, The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa called on the government to set up a new framework for disaster response, noting, “This widespread damage has elements in common with major disasters like a potentially catastrophic earthquake in the Nankai Trough off Japan’s Pacific coast. A structure needs to be put in place so that the experience and expertise that have been acquired by local governments when disasters strike can be applied when new disasters strike other areas.”

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