Five years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Red Cross recovery efforts continue.

Published: 11 March 2016 2:43 CET

By Hler Gudjonsson IFRC

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan triggering a devastating tsunami which caused massive destruction to coastal settlements. The disaster also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people from the surrounding area.  

Five years on from the disaster, life is steadily returning to normal in towns and communities along the coastline. But despite steady progress in rebuilding homes and local infrastructure, more than 186,000 people, the majority originating from Fukushima, have not been able to return home.

While almost 80% of agricultural land around Fukushima has been decontaminated, some communities closest to the Daiichi nuclear power plant will remain uninhabitable for years to come due to radioactive contamination.

Mr. and Mrs. Shinkai were forced to evacuate their home in Katsurao village in Fukushima. Now, they have built a new life for themselves far away from their former home.

“My wife and I both want to go back to Katsurao, but even if we get the permission it will be difficult”, said Mr. Shinkai. “Our children are already teenagers and there is no school for them in the village.”

Some 70,000 people, many from Fukushima, continue to reside in temporary housing settlements.  

“The elderly and people with disabilities living in temporary housing are particularly vulnerable”, said Tadateru Konoé, President of the Japanese Red Cross Society and of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).  “This disaster forced them from their original homes and neighbourhoods. Many feel very alone and still struggle to cope with the aftermath of the disaster. The Red Cross has been there to help them through difficult times”.

Japanese Red Cross volunteers organise recreational and social welfare activities with the elderly and other vulnerable groups. These varied activities include cooking classes, nordic walking in the countryside and health education sessions.

“One of our main priorities has been to work with groups such as the elderly and  schoolchildren;  providing them with psychological support and other help to overcome the trauma of what they experienced five years ago”, said Mr. Konoé.  

In the wake of the disaster, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and its member national societies from around the world sent donations to the Japanese Red Cross Society which have been used to fund a wide variety of projects designed to help the recovery of affected communities. Much of the funding has been spent on large-scale reconstruction projects included the rebuilding of temporary and permanent hospitals medical facilities, kindergartens and public housing.