Update on relief efforts in Tohoku

Memorial to Bank employees in Minamisanriku

Memorial to Bank employees in Minamisanriku

Since the great earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, a number of organizations have been active in Northeast Japan (“Tohoku”): It’s Not Just Mud (INJM) in Ishinomaki and OGA for Aid in Minamisanriku. Both of these organizations are small, have a strong internationalist outlook and are managed by both foreign and Japanese directors. They have generated considerable public conversations about the future of this region in Tohoku. A recent Japan Times article “Volunteers staying the course in Tohoku”, written by Shaun O’Dwyer, a professor at Meiji University and the director of INJM, provides an update on their activities from an insider’s point of view. He notes:

I said before that hope remains, but it must be qualified. The tsunami has accelerated long-term demographic and economic trends in coastal Tohoku, including an aging population, the exodus of its youth and the shrinking of its agricultural and fisheries workforces.
Regarding Ishinomaki’s future, El-Banna told me that “the one thing it has going for it is its industries,” including fisheries. Minamisanriku’s situation is somewhat different. As Angela Ortiz put it, “It was so small and badly damaged — not just the infrastructure but the people themselves. It’s such a struggle.” But, she added, “There are a lot of determined locals we are working for.”

Last summer, I had the opportunity to bring a small team to visit Ishinomaki and Minamisanriku. Please see this blog article describing what we observed in the midst of great devastation. This update from those on the ground there makes me want to go back again. These volunteers are conducting a heroic effort to help the folks in that region regain something from what they lost.

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