Expert Panel in Japan Assists JACL-Direct Relief Emergency Support Efforts

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WASHINGTON — JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori and Direct Relief International Program Director Brett Williams are in Japan coordinating support for relief and recovery efforts in high-level emergency consultations with Japanese organizations, business leaders, and government officials.

An expert panel of faculty and staff from Meiji Gakuin University organized and offered their services to JACL’s Tokyo Chapter upon learning of JACL’s intention to assist.

JACL and Direct Relief established the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund in the wake of the disaster and committed 100 percent of all contributions solely for assistance in Japan.  A total of $1.4 million in contributions has been received, with an additional $1 million in pledges made to the fund over the past week.

The initial disbursement of $400,000 was made last week to cover the expenses of assisting 15,000 persons at 20 sites in the earthquake- and tsunami-affected areas and those displaced due to the evacuation zone near the damaged nuclear-reactor.

The funds have been provided to the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan), a 31-year-old leading Japanese non-profit, non-governmental organization that launched relief efforts immediately following the earthquake and tsunami. It has delivered food, kerosene, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and hygiene supplies to 20 care centers.

The involvement of private organizations has been essential as the national government manages a massive, multi-faceted emergency and local governments — which are charged with distribution and emergency services but experienced significant loss of life and damaged capacity within their ranks — bring services online.

Additional disbursements of $600,000 will be made this week to Japanese organizations that have been identified, vetted, and interviewed through a rapidly assembled expert panel led by Meiji Gakuin University Professor Shigeki Takeo, director of the university’s International Peace Research Institute, Department of International Studies, and two of his International Studies faculty, Megumi Hirayama and Keiko Tanaka.

In meeting with the senior leadership of AAR Japan on Tuesday, Mori and Williams endorsed as a priority their organizations’ joint assistance to persons with disabilities and the elderly, who face extraordinary challenges in both the immediate crisis and in the recovery period that lies ahead. This priority has been the particular focus of AAR’s relief efforts, about which Mori, Williams, and John Tagami, who is serving as a senior adviser to Direct Relief, were briefed extensively.

Direct Relief has recognized since the onset of this crisis that the situation in Japan has required a different approach than in many emergencies in which it and other international humanitarian organizations manage large operations and import massive quantities of personnel and medical and material assistance.

In a letter sent shortly after the earthquake to Direct Relief supporters who had begun making unsolicited contributions to help Japan, Direct Relief CEO and President Thomas Tighe explained the role that the organization would play:

“In this rapidly unfolding and complex situation, many of the immediate priorities, including those related to damaged nuclear reactors and requiring large-scale airlift, involve activities that non-profit, non-governmental organizations such as Direct Relief simply do not do. The government of Japan must lead and is leading the emergency response, and Direct Relief has offered and will provide whatever support is requested for those efforts.

“However, Direct Relief’s experience, as in the case of Katrina and Rita, has shown that gaps always exist — even in rich countries — that non-profits are well suited to address. Established, credible, locally run civic and non-profit organizations in Japan will need and benefit from financial support, which is why Direct Relief and JACL are ensuring funds being generously donated are being segregated and will be used only for such purposes as needs become clear.”

Consistent with this approach, contributions made to the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund are being provided to colleague Japanese organizations that were able to move fast, provide essential services, and purchase and use locally available products and services.  However, as in the case of AAR Japan, these essential life-saving steps have necessarily been undertaken with whatever financial resources available.

“We have too often seen the dilemma of local groups doing exactly what everyone would hope and expect — responding immediately to help their own country or community in a thoroughly professional manner — but exhausting their financial resources in the process and being unable to maintain operations despite being best suited to do so,” said Tighe.  “That is why, in this case, we believe the best role we can play in Japan is to ensure that such local groups, like AAR Japan, and the people depending on them have access to the financial resources being made so generously for Japan in the United States.”

Mori commented, “The comprehensive briefing and assessments provided by AAR’s officers and staff today reflected tremendous effectiveness, deep insight, and tireless efforts.  I can’t think of a better report back to the donors who have generously given of themselves and deserve to know that their contributions are making a direct and meaningful difference for people affected by this crisis and supporting a group that needs and deserves support.”

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