News / Asia

Red Cross Launches Huge Tsunami Relief Effort

Japanese Red Cross Society worker feeds baby at relief center
Japanese Red Cross Society worker feeds baby at relief center
Lisa Schlein

The International Red Cross Federation says more than two million Japanese Red Cross volunteers are involved in a huge operation to assist millions of earthquake and tsunami survivors, in what is considered to be Japan’s worst disaster since World War II.  To date, more than 2,700 people are confirmed dead, more than 3,700 are missing and nearly half a million are homeless. 

According to IFRC, the Japanese Red Cross has deployed mobile clinics to towns to assist survivors who remain without electricity and have little water.  It has dispatched 115 National Disaster Response Teams and nearly 1,000 medical staff.

Counseling offered

Red Cross spokesman, Paul Conneally says more than 2,600 trained psycho-social nurses are on the ground in the affected areas.  He says they will be playing an increasingly important role in the coming weeks and months; helping tsunami survivors deal with the loss of their families, friends, livelihoods and possessions.

"Also, they have an incredible resource of two million volunteers, trained volunteers, covering all sorts of needs from helicopter pilots, to cooks, to first aid," Conneally said.  "So, they really are a national society which is extremely well-positioned to both assess the situation and respond to the situation as it unfolds, despite the major challenges."  

Relief effort

Right now, the Japanese Red Cross says it has the capacity to deal with the massive relief operation and it is not asking for international assistance.  However, it says it does welcome cash donations to help the recovery efforts.

Besides the devastating effects of the tsunami, Japan also has to deal with the consequences of the potentially harmful effects of radiation leaks from its tsunami-damaged nuclear facilities.

The JRC has nuclear decontamination teams throughout the country.  They are working closely with the government to prepare people for further medical treatment.


But, Red Cross Under-Secretary General for Program Services, Matthias Schmale, says for now the Japanese Red Cross'  priorities are to deal with the needs of tsunami survivors and not with the effects of the nuclear accidents.

"What concerns us about the nuclear catastrophe is how it might affect the tsunami response operation," Schmale explained. "So we are not, as such, responding to the nuclear disaster because humanitarian needs around this are not clear at this stage.  What is very clear is the fate of the survivors of the tsunami and their loved ones.  And that is the priority."  

Immediate priorities include search and rescue, caring for the displaced, providing basic relief to the affected population, and psychological counseling.

The Red Cross says it is also extremely important to help the elderly.  They comprise about 30 percent of the population and are extremely vulnerable.  

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