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Japan Platform 
Providing immediate and effective emergency relief in collaboration with NGOs, businesses, and government

Noriyuki Shiina (right), Chief, Operations Unit
Mri Takita (left), Manager, Public relations

This month's Close UP features Japan Platform (JPF), an international humanitarian support organization aiming to collaborate with NGOs, businesses and the Japanese government and provide faster and more effective humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters and refugees from regional conflicts. Through JPF, financial support is immediately provided from government funding and donations from businesses and citizens to each participating NGO so that it can make an emergency dispatch to affected sites and start their relief activities as quick as possible. While JPF has been involved in various emergency assistance worldwide since its establishment in 2000, we asked Noriyuki Shiina, Chief, Operations Unit, to speak about their relief activities following the East Japan Great Earthquake.

Please tell us about the uniqueness of JPF's emergency relief activities.

JPF office in Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

A. Currently we have 33 humanitarian support NGOs registered with the JPF's NGO unit. While these NGOs conduct their projects by directly visiting affected sites and providing relief supplies, mental help, and livelihood support, JPF assists emergency situations by collecting resources including funds and materials needed for such relief activities and providing collected resources to the registered NGOs. Another role of JPF is to make various adjustments between the NGOs so that their relief activities are conducted more effectively. For example, it is often the case on the emergency sites that groups working in the same local area do not know about each other's activities. JPF gathers and shares information through the participating NGOs so that they can be horizontally connected to support each other and avoid duplicated activities.

How did JPF first react to the East Japan Great Earthquake?

Relaying relief materials that have just arrived (Kesennuma-shi, Miyagi)
©PWJ Peace Winds Japan

A. It was within three hours in the wake of the earthquake that JPF officially decided to conduct a relief operation. We had never been involved in disaster relief of this scale within Japan, but our past experiences and achievements in offering overseas emergency assistances with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), and the registered NGOs have been helping us to do our job this time as well. The first role of JPF was to collect resources such as relief funds and materials. As we have long been discussing with Keidanren for increasing quality and quantity of such emergency resources, we were able to receive support from a number of businesses at an early stage of our operation. The NGOs registered with JPF also took quick action and decided on their dispatch at an early stage as well. I think this is because these NGOs all know, based on their experiences in emergency assistance outside Japan, that faster action is always better. They also know well what they need to take to the disaster sites to start their activities.

How do you distribute the collected resources to each participating NGO?

Hearing local needs
(Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate)
©KnK Children without Borders

A.Imagine that we have a basket prepared with available resources. Participating NGOs respectively apply for the resources they need for their projects, and when the project is screened and approved, they will receive the resources from the basket. For the initial dispatches in case of emergencies, we make our decisions for the approval within a few hours. With the fund we provide, each NGO begins their initial research for needs while distributing relief materials and gradually expands their activities to a larger scale. We must respond quickly for emergency relief, but we also want to make sure that the money we received from our contributors is spent on appropriate projects by confirming if adjustments are made as needed between the NGOs and the disaster affected sites, if required specialists are included in the projects, and so on.

We understand that JPF makes arrangements for the distribution of donated relief materials.

School supplies delivered to local elementary schools
(Kesennuma-shi, Miyagi)
©SVA Shanti Volunteer Association

A. JPF makes a list of items to be donated according to the offers we receive from businesses and organizations and create a match with the needs requested by the NGOs that are active on the sites. A wide variety of items are needed, including foods, sanitary goods, clothes, beddings, daily commodities, and so on, and such needs continue to change. For example, we received numerous offers for educational supplies during the beginning of the school year, but we found a possibility of an unfair distribution of randoseru (book bags) and other school items between schools due to uncoordinated support activities. For this case, JPF gathered information for available educational support at its Sendai office and arranged NGOs' activities so as to avoid duplication.

We heard that JPF has received many offers of support from overseas.

Distributing items donated from around the nation to local people
(Ishinomaki-shi, Miyagi)

A. Yes, we have received a number of offers of support from overseas including governments, businesses, and NGOs. For example, we received an offer of the donation of surgical masks from the Thai government and tea bags from the Embassy of Sri Lanka. These items are also delivered to local communities via the NGOs participating in the JPF system. We have also received various inquiries from overseas NGOs who wanted to find a partner Japanese NGO to work with on the site, as well as those who wanted the money they have collected to be spent for specified purposes. When JPF and our NGOs conduct support activities overseas, we always ask local NGOs for their cooperation to provide us with information. This time, JPF performed such role of serving as an information provider as Japan receives support from overseas.

What do you see in future relief activities?

Student volunteers helping to clean houses (Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate)
©NICCO Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development

A. During the Golden Week holidays, a number of people came to the disaster affected sites as volunteers and helped by removing debris, cleaned mud, and cooked meals at shelters. After the holidays, however, we are afraid that the movement for supporting the disaster victims seems to have settled down. The reality is that there are still so many people who need volunteers' help. We expect that the needs for help will become more diverse as more people move from the shelters to temporary housings, back to their home, or to live in relative's houses. Our biggest concern is what types of support we should provide to those who live in the temporary housing, because they could be isolated from the communities and live without going outside their house. We need attention especially for elders and help them not to be separated from society. JPF has decided to continue its support activities for three years. However, we also understand that it is not enough considering the scale of the disaster and damages this time.

What would be the focus of your future support activities?

Carrying supplies into a temporary housing
©PWJ Peace Winds Japan

A. We assume that employment issues will be the major task. Victims of the disaster do not just wait for help. Instead, everyone is trying to get back to their normal life again by themselves. How we should support these people's efforts is very important. The first step will be having these victims themselves to be part of the recovery activities. Next thing will be how to help them make their living by restoring the industries that had been the base of their living. We need to talk to the industry associations of fishermen and farmers and make a mid to long-term recovery plan. Our goal is that people in the affected areas regain the environments in which they can live independently again as early as possible so that they would not need our further assistance.

Tell us about your new project to get the victims involved in the support activities.

Preparing meals with help of local youth (Ofunato-shi, Iwate)
©PB Peace Builders

A.We have established a new fund called "tomo-ni ikiru" (live together), from which JPF can provide an activity fund for NGOs that are not registered with us. With this fund, we are planning to assist volunteer groups originally based in the Tohoku region as well as local-based organizations which started support activities in the affected areas following the disaster. It is the people of Tohoku who know Tohoku best. We hope that by supporting local volunteers we can make their way to an independent life smoother. We would like to invite all local organizations and groups currently operating in the disaster areas to apply for the JPF's new fund.

Lastly, please give a message to the readers of L'ESPACE.

Distributing relief supplies to support victims of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
©ICA The Institute of Cultural Affairs

A. We believe that many people have already made donations, but we want them to also know how and where your money are being used. JPF shares such information of what our participating NGOs are doing on our website. If you become interested in the activities that our humanitarian support NGOs are doing for the victims of the East Japan Great Earthquake, we want you to also learn about their support activities that they have been doing outside Japan as well. We want people in Japan know more about humanitarian assistance activities provided by NGOs overseas. Many of such organizations are groups of professionals and have done great work in helping victims of natural disasters and regional conflicts around the world. Another thing we want people to remember is that even such disasters, as devastating as they are, may be forgotten as time goes by. This cannot be helped, but there will be always different needs as seasons and environments change. It will be a long way to recovery from the East Japan Great Earthquake. Please remember that we need a long-term support.