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At a glance: Japan

Japanese staff members from UNICEF head home to help with disaster response

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 23 March 2011 – “If I can be useful, I prefer to go,” said UNICEF Intergovernmental Affairs Officer Miho Fukuhara, who is returning to Japan to help her home country recover from this month’s triple disaster.

VIDEO: 22 March 2011 - Intergovernmental Affairs Officer Miho Fukuhara talks about deploying to Japan with several other UNICEF staff from that country to help with disaster response in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami there.  Watch in RealPlayer


The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on 11 March triggered a devastating tsunami and, in turn, a near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The death toll is estimated at more than 9,400, almost 15,000 people remain unaccounted for, and some 300,000 are homeless in freezing temperatures.

Needs assessment

Ms. Fukuhara, who is based at UNICEF headquarters in New York, is one of eight Japanese experts who’ve have been deployed from their posts in countries around the world – including Somalia and Afghanistan – to work with the Japan Committee for UNICEF as it offers support to the Japanese people.

“It’s just so sad to see the situation,” she said. “The size of the tragedy is big – one third of Japan has been affected and we have a problem with the nuclear plant too, so it’s a matter for all Japanese.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0427/Dean
Neena Sasaki, 5, surveys the wreckage of her home, which was destroyed by the 11 March tsunami, in Rikuzen-Takaata, a small town in Iwate Prefecture, Japan.

Ms. Fukuhara will join UNICEF Japan’s field team as it assesses needs and offers technical assistance in the earthquake-stricken region. UNICEF is providing children’s clothing and toys donated by its partner, IKEA. The organization has also sent ‘School in a Box’ kits, recreation kits and early childhood development kits from its main supply warehouse in Copenhagen.

Impact on children

School will resume in the affected areas in April. UNICEF’s chief concerns is to help ensure that children’s education is uninterrupted and that they receive psychological support to recover from the events they have experienced.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0431/Dean
A medical worker tests a young man for radioactive contamination in an emergency evacuation centre for people living within 20 km of the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

“What we can do as an international agency is to support the children who’ve been traumatized by this catastrophe,” said Ms Fukuhara. “We also have to start to think about the medium and longer term, how to minimize the impact of the tragedy, especially for children.”

The Japan Committee for UNICEF was founded in 1955 and has grown to become a leading force for child rights in Japan and around the world. UNICEF also maintains a headquarters office in Tokyo to coordinate advocacy and communication work with government policy makers.



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