Since July 5th, 2018, Western Japan has been reeling from the effects of torrential downpours, severe flooding, and landslides. The severe weather initially caused evacuation warnings in prefectures throughout Western Honshu, Northern Kyushu, and Shikoku, though currently, the most severe damage is concentrated in Hiroshima, Ehime, and Okayama prefectures. Some of the areas impacted by severe rain, flooding, and landslides are the same areas that were impacted by an earthquake in early June.
The floods resulted in severe damage. So far, there have been over 200 casualties, most of whom were elderly residents with limited mobility and access to information. Currently, 7,000 evacuees are still unable to return to their homes, and are housed in evacuation shelters. Further, a heat-wave has hit the area; temperatures in many of the flooded areas are four to seven degrees higher than normal, leading thousands to seek medical help for heat stroke and exhaustion. The heat, when combined with water shortages, a lack of electricity in many areas, and the spread of contaminants in flood water, has also exacerbated concerns regarding sanitation and the spread of disease.
In response to the ongoing situation in western Japan, four Japan-US organizations have teamed up to create the Japan Flood Friendship Fund (JFFF), in order to provide relief to those suffering the effects of the series of natural disasters this month. The organizations working together to create the JFFF are the US-Japan Council, the United States-Japan Foundation, the Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL), and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. As the US-Japan Council noted in its press release- “Many in the U.S. have strong ties to the Ehime, Hiroshima and Okayama communities through people-to-people programs and exchanges. Many Japanese Americans also have family ties or personal connections to the region.”
The Japan Flood Friendship Fund follows in a tradition of disaster assistance between the US and Japan. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese government donated 200,000 in disaster-relief aid, 844,000 in supplies, and over $1 million in private pledges to disaster relief efforts. Similarly, during the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in Northeastern Japan, the US military launched Operation Tomodachi, a relief effort which deployed 24,000 troops to aid affected areas.
Disaster relief efforts haven’t been limited to official government contributions; ordinary American and Japanese citizens also have a history of helping one another in times of need. After Hurricane Katrina, the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation donated 25,000 to reconstruction efforts, and the city of Kobe, which was the site of a major 1995 earthquake, donated $10,000. Additionally, New Orleans’s sister city, Matsue City, contributed $48,000. After 3/11, American citizen groups returned the favor. For example, the Japan America Society of Colorado raised $126,000 by the end of the summer of 2011. To express their gratitude, a delegation of government officials from Miyagi prefecture visited a school and a number of public offices in Denver in early 2012. Additionally, as with the Katrina relief efforts, sister city relationships played an important role in mobilizing support after the 2011 earthquake. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, for example, hosted a series of benefit concerts in order to raise funds to assist Sendai, Dallas’s sister city and one of the hardest-hit areas after the tsunami. Similarly, in 2011, when a delegation from Kanegasaki, Iwate, was unable to participate in an annual exchange trip, the Amherst-Kanegasaki Sister City Committee hosted a potluck fundraiser, and contributed the proceeds to the disaster relief fund at the Boston Consulate.
The Japan Flood Friendship Fund is currently accepting donations, which are tax deductible. Anyone interested in donating may do so through this link.
Elizabeth Smith is a Research Intern with the East-West Center in Washington. She recently completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, and will be studying at the Inter-University Center in Yokohama next year as a Boren Scholar.