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Aid Delivery Trickles In One Week After Japanese Quake, Tsunami

“Across large parts of Japan stricken a week ago by a quake and tsunami, aid isn’t getting through. Blizzards, impassible roads, worries over radiation exposure, fuel shortages and other logistical problems have stalled aid from getting to those who need it, even as officials have boosted the amount of food and other goods available to some easier-to-reach communities,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Some of the problems facing relief efforts have not presented as major challenges for other countries dealing with natural disasters. For example, Japan has to figure out “how to manage its response in a place where an unusually large share of the population is elderly,” the newspaper reports. 

At least 1.6 million households lack water, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and about 430,000 people are homeless and living in evacuation centers. In addition, many of those living in the packed centers “are now falling ill with diarrhea and other illnesses due to freezing weather and lack of clean water or sanitation” and going with minimal food, the OCHA said, the newspaper writes.

Some officials said aid delays were the result of damaged infrastructure and problems refueling. “The continuing aid shortages are testing a widely held belief that Japan, one of the world’s richest and most-developed economies, is capable of largely shouldering what is turning into a colossal aid effort. Although the government has accepted extensive help from U.S. military forces and some other countries, it has so far discouraged many international aid agencies from playing a major role, saying it feared that bringing in foreign aid workers would only add to confusion on the ground,” the Wall Street Journal writes (Bellman/Barta, 3/18).

Yomiuri Shimbun/McClatchy also reports on the situation on the ground. “Medical support is desperately needed at the shelters in the quake zone as the threat of influenza and other infectious diseases grows,” the news service writes (3/17). 

According to the Associated Press, “Aid has started trickling in, but much of it appears ad hoc and many survivors remain isolated and cold and are fending for themselves.” The U.S. military currently has 50,000 troops in Japan to aid with relief, “but snow has limited helicopter flights, and American aircraft are also under orders to skirt the area around the nuclear plant to reduce the risk of radiation exposure,” the news service writes (3/18).

The death toll has risen to 5,692, Japanese officials said on Thursday, adding that a total of 9,506 people have been registered as missing, but several thousands more are still believed to be unaccounted, the New York Times reports in an article examining how foreign governments and international organizations have responded to the situation (Lyons, 3/17). “Emergency water, blankets, portable warehouses and tents are being dispatched, mostly from Japanese supplies but also from foreign sources like Malaysia, said Rene McGuffin, spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program in Washington,” Reuters reports. So far, the Japanese government has not requested food aid, McGuffin and USAID officials said. “They have asked us to provide logistical support on the ground,” McGuffin said.

The article also looks at how the disaster will impact the food security situation in the country, which “is one of the world’s largest importers of food, relying on foreign-grown commodities for 60 percent of its needs,” Reuters notes (Cowan, 3/17).

WHO Issues New Radiation Exposure Guidelines As Nuclear Situation Continues To Develop

The WHO on Thursday “issued fresh guidelines on how to minimize exposure to radiation that can cause cancers, especially in children and young adults,” Reuters reports. The Japanese government’s actions have so far met international recommendations, the agency said. “There was no indication of food safety risks due to imports of food products from Japan. It was also unlikely food production or harvesting in the affected area was taking place, but it said crops and livestock in the area should be protected,” according to the article, which lists the WHO’s recommendations (3/17).

Also on Thursday, U.S. officials said “they were ramping up their ability to collect their own information about radiation levels and the condition of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,” the Wall Street Journal reports in a second article.

“Concern among U.S. officials about the reliability of information coming from the Japanese government during the unfolding calamity has risen dramatically in recent days, say administration officials. U.S. officials are concerned they may not be getting the full picture of what is happening on the ground. … The U.S. has increased its presence in Japan, sharing information with the government while being mindful of not overstepping its boundaries in the country, officials said,” according to the newspaper (Weisman/Power, 3/18).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.