Thursday 08 March 2012
Reflections from Japan
Families receiving aid in Japan last year
'Living in Japan it is easy to become complacent. Crime is low, politics uneventful, and turmoil on the international stage is rare. Even the earthquakes, which are common here, are greeted with relative equanimity due to confidence in the engineering prowess of the architects.’
Before Chris Alderson (UK) trained to become a ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member, he acted as a guide and translator for ShelterBox in Japan, following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck the country's northeast coast in March 2011 causing widespread devastation:
'I have lived here 15 years and was as shocked as any when, on Friday 11 March, the tremors in Tokyo increased in intensity beyond anything I had previously experienced. In the north, closer to the epicentre, the violent quake presaged what was later categorised as a tsunami of a scale seen once in 1000 years. Annual evacuation drills saved millions, but due to the unforeseen scale of the event, some relocation centres were situated below the level of the incoming wave, and safety measures at the nuclear facility in Fukushima failed beneath the double onslaught of tremor and tsunami, causing critical leakage. Initial reports indicated the damage and loss of life to be enormous. Meanwhile, uncertainty regarding radiation, damage to roads, shortage of power and panic buying of fuel and food confounded even authorities in reaching the disaster zone.
'I have made a career of building companies, factories, and distribution networks around Asia with few resources other than initiative. I recognised that I was in a position to help my adopted home, and immediately began to search for a way to do so. Most organisations seeking to assist here balked at the apparent obstacles initially. However, a German lawyer, Marco Moller, who had previously interned with my firm, advised me that ShelterBox was on the ground, only 24 hours after the temblor. He put me in touch with SRT members Mark Pearson (UK) and Lasse Petersen (AU), and by Sunday I had agreed to act as guide and translator for an initial assessment up north. The British Embassy was tireless in their support, providing permits to cross the nuclear exclusion zone, and negotiating on our behalf to obtain fuel from the US air force base of Yokota. The sight that greeted us when we reached Kessanuma shocked even veterans like Mark and Lasse.
'Once they confirmed the need for support, I was able to arrange the provision of six ten ton trucks from a business acquaintance, and shamelessly pressed Land Rover to sign over one of their vehicles. Virgin Airways, a great supporter of ShelterBox, also provided a jeep, whilst another of my previous companies provided oil drums so that we could place emergency fuel supplies in Morioka (queues stretched up to six hours for a five litre fuel ration), which served as our initial base of operations in the north.
'Rotarians provided storage both at the airport in Narita and in the north, and their network proved invaluable in our subsequent search for the needy. ShelterBox quickly escalated activities, and deployed further SRT members, with whom I travelled, facilitating communications, pitching tents and training locals in the use of the supplies that ShelterBox was able to bring into Japan with stunning speed.
'Our activity included setting up tents within displacement centres to provide privacy and dignity to people pressed in their hundreds into common rooms, or in communities where people chose to stay near their ruined homes to rebuild with their neighbours. In Nagahama we found 96 people living in the only three homes left habitable. Their sense of community was such that they thought nothing of sharing their homes and few possessions rather than see their neighbours dispensed to other locations. We were able to establish and equip a tent community so that they could continue rebuilding with their community and pride intact. People would have been touched by the smiles, hugs and tears of gratitude we were bestowed with.
'My involvement concluded after a few weeks, as initial disaster relief gave way to longer term support initiatives, but the impression left on me by ShelterBox echoed on. They had deployed with speed and organisation to rival any corporate or military organisation. The passion and dedication of the SRT members I deployed with was backed up by impressive logistic and planning capabilities. It was clear that time spent with ShelterBox was not a feel-good exercise, but a carefully strategised activity with calculated impact. This event was also a timely reminder that my long held intentions to make a positive contribution to the world had so far remained no more than that – intentions.
'When I was approached about becoming an SRT member I was proud to join their ranks. As we underwent extensive, multi-disciplinary training, it was pressed upon us that our lifesaving activities would bring with them responsibilities both to communities around the world, and as ambassadors for the many whose work in raising awareness, collecting and contributing funds, packing boxes and countless other activities made our deployment possible.
'My deployment to Mindanao in the Southern Philippines this month was my first as a fully-fledged SRT member. Whilst other team members had been on the ground since tropical storm Washi left 28,000 people without shelter in December, I was able to participate in the final stages of providing shelter to hundreds of families. I would like to thank all those who made this, and countless other such initiatives possible, and I am unspeakably proud to be a part of ShelterBox.'