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Japanese, International Officials Continue To Monitor Radiation Levels

Japanese officials plan to measure radiation levels in the ocean beyond the country’s borders on Tuesday and Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said, CNN reports.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns and operates the plant, said although “high levels of radioactive substances were found in seawater near the plant, … the results did not represent a threat to human health. ‘There should be no immediate health impact. If this situation continues for a long period of time, some impact can occur,’ Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters,” the news service writes.

CNN notes that higher levels of radiation in food near the damaged nuclear plant led Japan’s government to ban the sale of raw milk, spinach and other vegetables produced in the areas around the site. The government continues to monitor agricultural products and tap water, which has shown higher-than-normal radiation levels in some areas, “although far below levels of concern under Japanese law, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency website,” CNN reports (3/22).

“The FDA is going to monitor pharmaceuticals made in Japan – as well as food products – for any signs of elevated radiation levels,” a spokesperson for the agency told the Wall Street Journal’s “Health Blog” (Hobson, 3/21).

Weather Adds To Logistical Challenges Of Aid Delivery; World Bank Estimates Total Damages 

“Freezing rain and snow is slowing Japan’s relief efforts in areas hardest hit by the record earthquake and tsunami 11 days ago as the government struggles to restore communications to cut-off towns and villages,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports (Biggs/Chu, 3/22).

“There is some improvement in terms of logistics and in getting food and other supplies,” said Francis Markus of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delegation in Tokyo, Reuters reports.  “But it is still very difficult,” Markus added.  

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said water access “remains a concern” in 11 prefectures. “Makeshift evacuation centres, packed with hundreds of shell-shocked survivors sleeping side-by-side for more than a week, are orderly but clearly deteriorating in some regions, beset by cases of diarrhea, influenza, stress and fatigue,” according to the news service. “About 10,000 people, on average, are leaving evacuation centres a day, according to U.N. data. The Red Cross’s Markus said many are heading to homes of people not affected by the disaster who have offered to take in survivors” (Herskovitz, 3/22).

Japan’s National Police Agency said the death toll from the disaster had risen to 9,079 and 12,782 people are still missing, Bloomberg Businessweek writes. “The number of people evacuated from their homes fell to 338,522 yesterday, down from almost 400,000 last week” (3/22).

On Monday, the World Bank said the earthquake and tsunami caused up to $235 billion in damages, “making the natural disaster one of the most expensive in modern history,” the Washington Post reports. “The rebuilding effort could take five years, the bank said in its report, and will cost far more than earthquakes in Haiti last year and Kobe in 1995, as well as Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005 and the tsunami in South Asia in 2004,” the newspaper reports (Nakamura, 3/21). 

Situation In Japan Delays Maternal, Child Health Grant To Zimbabwe

The Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Koichi Morita said a grant signing ceremony with Zimbabwe will have to be delayed because Japan’s government is focused on dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, AfricaNews reports. The Japanese government was supposed to sign a $5.6 million grant agreement at the UNICEF offices in Harare on Friday to help Zimbabwe make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals related to child and maternal mortality.

“I have not received communication from my Minister in Tokyo, so we have decided to suspend all international commitments here as the government is currently trying to take care of the situation back home,” said Morita (Rusere, 3/21).

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