The Kumamoto Earthquake, One Year Later: Applying Lessons from the Disaster in Providing Aid

It has been nearly a year since the Kumamoto Earthquakes. During the earthquakes, the town of Mashiki and the village of Nishihara experienced two magnitude 7 earthquakes, and in the village of Minamiaso, the Aso-bridge collapsed due to a large-scale landslide. As of November 30th of last year, 4,165 additional earthquakes, which could be felt, had been recorded. The number of casualties, including 150 earthquake-related deaths, rose to 205 (Kumamoto Prefecture Crisis Management Disaster Prevention Division Announcement, March 3rd, report). Moreover, at its peak there were over 180,000 evacuees and 855 evacuation centers. Since the disaster, AAR Japan has been distributing meals and basic necessities and up to now has been providing aid to a social welfare facilities for people with disabilities and to those in temporary residences.

Rebuilding a Vital Place in the Village

During this earthquake, there were supply and staff shortages at the evacuation centers that were established to accommodate those who require special care, such as those with disabilities and the elderly. In addition, temporary residences had not been designed to be wheelchair accessible. It made us recognize again how easy it is for people with disabilities and the elderly to be put into difficult situations in times of disaster. Because of this, AAR Japan has focused on providing aid to people with disabilities, by supporting local organizations which work with people with disabilities and who are leading recovery efforts in  the region.

In Nishihara Village, 60% of the houses were completely or partially destroyed. Nishihara Tanpopo (Dandelion) House, a NPO near the village office, is the only social welfare facilities of its kind where people with disabilities go to process crops and prepare and sell bentos (lunch box) and snacks. During the day, it is a cafeteria filled with locals, and is a place where those facing economic hardships can enjoy a meal with others whilst lending a hand to the center.  It has become a central entity, a vital place in the village.
Even after the earthquake, the house has become an evacuation center for those disabled persons and staff who frequented, in addition to acting as a point from which supplies and meals could be distributed to nearby regions.
Tanpopo House’s cafeteria has a rich menu, including ramen and curry. (Jun.24th,2016)

I received support for the first time –The reality of Afghan Returnees

After July of last year, The Pakistan government strengthened its  repatriation policy of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and many people were forced to return to their home country. Among them, about 310,000 are referred to as “Non-registered returnees”. Because they were living without refugee registration in Pakistan, they could not get a certification from the United Nations for returning. Most of them have not received any support so far. Anisa Guru (age 33), a non-registered returnee, now lives with her six children in Nangahar Province, eastern Afghanistan. We talked to her about her living conditions.

"We have not received any support so far"

When I was eight years old, Afghanistan was in the midst of civil war from the then Mujahideen administration. So, our family evacuated to Pakistan. We lived peacefully after arriving in Peshawar, Pakistan. I lived with my family and got married when I was 16 years old. My husband could not read or write, so he worked selling fruit to support our family. The income was meagre but I was happy. I believed that life would get better once our children were born, grown and educated.
    I have six children. My eldest daughter is 16 years old, my eldest son is 14 years old, my second daughter 11 years old, my second son 8 years old and my third and fourth sons are six years old. My second daughter was born with a disability in one leg. She needed surgery, but we could not afford it. Considering her future, we borrowed money from relatives to pay for the surgery. However, there is still a disability on her leg. Then, a more tragic event befell our family. One day three years ago, a suicide bombing occurred in Sadel, Peshawar where we lived. My husband was involved in it and was killed. I fell over in shock on the spot. I have never had a more shocking and sad incident in my life to date. I did not have the knowledge to live or job. I did not know how to feed my six children. I asked my husband’s brother if he could provide just a place to live and he lent me 7000 yen to pay the rent. However, being a day labor, he could not afford to lend money. After a few months, he said to me that he could not pay the rent.  
 I thought that I had to live by myself somehow. I knocked on the doors of nearby houses, asking “Do you need help cleaning?” but nobody would hire me. The children would come to me and say “We are starving”. We only had a little bit of money at that time.
I visited nearby houses for work as hard as I could. Then a family asked, “Will you wash
 our laundry?” I answered immediately,” I will.” That was my first job. I could not earn enough money to let my children go to school, but they never got hungry anymore. I strongly remember feeling happy at that time since I was able to at least provide for my family by myself. The families that knew my situation gave me their kids’ old clothes, some extra food, and tips. My family was not able to live without them. That was my life in Pakistan.
    However, our life in Pakistan did not continue for long. The Pakistan government strengthened its policy of repatriating Afghan refugees. We believed that not only would the Pakistan police force us off there, but they would use violence because we were not registered refugees. That is why we decided to leave Pakistan.
Anisa(right) purchasing by coupons that AAR Japan distributed(Apr. 3rd, 2017)

    We live in Jalalabad, Nangahar Province with other families who cannot pay the full rent by themselves. I have to work for the rent nonetheless. It is completely different from Pakistan here. In Pakistan, I could walk out and work, but here it is too dangerous to do so. If anything happens to me, who will protect the children? We had not been able to receive any assistance from anyone. In order to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan, it is necessary to cross the border of Talkham in the Nangahar Province. Aid was distributed there. However, we could not receive it since our family was not registered as refugees. The Afghanistan government did not support us at all even when I asked for help at the refugee・returnee management office numerous times. These $200 coupons and solar panels that I have received from AAR Japan is the first bit of support I’ve received. With this, I can let my children eat thanks to this support. I hope that these kinds of problems disappear and I am able to live safely.

Anisa's brothers-in-law carried goods on truck bed(Apr.3rd, 2017)
Anisa went back home on truck bed with her brothers-in-law because they have a custom which women hardly walk out alone(Apr.3rd, 2017)

AAR will continue to support persons with disabilities, women like Anisa, are and others who have yet to receive any support. We are grateful for your continued co-operation and kind emergency donations.

English editing by Mr. Joseph Scutella


Afghanistan: Distribution of daily necessities to afghan returnees continues

The Pakistani government strengthened its repatriation policy towards Afghan refugees, with more than 600,000 people forcibly returned from last year. According to a survey that AAR Japan conducted on 3,800 households in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, from the end of February to March more than half of respondents were in need without any aid. AAR is distributing emergency relief supplies to these people.

To ensure that each person has what they really need 

The local government ordered the Babo Gulu’s family to leave their house immediately after the repatriation policy of the Pakistan government was strengthened last year. They were not given any time to prepare. They scraped the cost to return home somehow by selling household goods, and managed to get to Afghanistan half a year ago. They said that they have hardly any money.

In our interview with 3,800 households, we found that the returnees face difficulties in many areas such as where to live, food, education, medical care and so on. We decided to hand out relief supplies to 580 households, especially to persons with disabilities and families where the woman is the head of the household and who have not received any assistance. Tickets for solar panel sets (solar panel, charger, lamp, etc.) were distributed to all these households. As for the others supplies, the items that they already have differed depending on the household, so we distributed coupons so that they can purchase what they need by themselves.
The AAR Staff interviewing from Afghan refugees.(c)(March 29th, 2017)


Haiti: Ending seven years of relief efforts for those affected and persons with disabilities

As of January 2017, AAR Japan has concluded all of its relief activities in Haiti.
In January 2010, Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic magnitude 7 earthquake. In response, AAR dispatched an emergency assistance team. AAR established an office in the capital Port-au-Prince, delivering food supplies and engaging in various projects, such as the rebuilding of child care facilities and facilities for persons with disabilities (PWDs), promotional activities for hygiene, and inclusive education. 
In April 2016, seven years after the quake, the office in Port-au-Price was closed, but our work with inclusive education continued in collaboration with local organizations. Then in October 2016, Hurricane Mathew caused a tremendous amount of damage to the country, prompting AAR Japan to take action and dispatch its emergency assistance team once again to support those who were affected. As of January 2017, all of the organization’s work with promoting inclusive education and supporting victims of Hurricane Mathew were completed and thus our activities in Haiti had come to an end. The following is a report of AAR’s activities and its results which were made possible by your support.

1. Assistance for those affected by the catastrophic earthquake (January-June, 2010) 

On January 12th, 2010 (local time), a strong magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Republic of Haiti.
Even before the earthquake, Haiti had long been considered the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. As it turned out, the impact was devastating as a result of various combining factors; the earthquake having directly struck the highly populated capital, the sheer scale of the earthquake itself, and a fragile social structure due to the country’s volatile political situation. In light of this situation, AAR sent an emergency assistance team to the ground on January 25th, consisting of 4 staff members from our Tokyo Office, which distributed emergency relief packages, waterproof sheets and other aid items to 13,400 households overall (approx. 67,000 persons) by April 2010.
“I have been waiting for water and food”. Go IGARASHI (right), AAR, hands food and daily necessities package to a woman affected by the disaster (February 4th, 2010)


No Help From Anywhere – Afghan Returnees in Deplorable Conditions

Today over 2 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. Since last July, the government of Pakistan has toughened its policy to repatriate Afghan refugees. As a result, 630,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan last year. Additional 500,000 refugees are estimated to join them in March following the winter pause. To prepare for emergency relief, AAR Japan conducted a preliminary assessment to examine the living conditions of these Afghan returnees who are stranded in in Nangarhar Province, which makes an entry point along the eastern border. The province currently hosts over 140,000 Afghan returnees who are taking temporary refuge. Through the assessment we discovered these “returnees” have no home to return to. This report details the returnees’ situations observed by the assessment team in the field.

Nowhere to Go—Returnees Shivering in Tents

From February 20th to March 4th AAR’s assessment team interviewed 3,815 households, in 10 districts in Nangarhar province most populated by the. Half of those interviewed lived under tents near the river or on a piece of land owned by someone else because they have nowhere else to stay. The Pakistani government is forcefully kicking Afghan refugees but the Afghan government has no designated camps for resettling the returnees. Nonetheless, the Afghan government does not allow NGOs to provide shelters these returnees. Under these circumstances, all returnees have to bear individual responsibilities to find a place to live. This is nearly impossible simply because they are poor and their hometown is under political instability.

One woman who lives in a tent shared her story with tears in her eyes. “My husband had already died, so I returned to Afghanistan with my children. I had to sell some of the belongings to pay for food and a place to put up a tent, but it cannot withstand the rain and wind. Some children died from the cold. We need a proper house. Children cannot go to school but they work on the street or in a brick factory. These kinds of jobs are too hard for children. Many NGOs are saying that they will help us, but it’s the only handful who receive any help. We came back to our country with hope. But there is no hope here.”

Children can’t go to school because of financial burdens, coupled with the language barrier. There are multiple languages spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of which are shared across the border.  However, most of the children cannot speak languages spoken in Afghanistan because they were born and raised in Pakistan. Education will be a major issue for these returnee children in the coming years.
Children living in a tent. A girl in the middle holds up a registration document issued by the government of Afghanistan (March 2nd, 2017)


Pakistan: Shaping Girls' Education Environment

In Kyhber Pakhtunkhwa, a state in north western Pakistan, a great number of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan are residing. However, without even basic infrastructure such as a clean water system, both refugees and local residents are forced to live a difficult way of life. In order to deliver a brighter future for the children who will one day inherit the country, AAR Japan, since 2011, has been working to improve primary schools by adding more classrooms and sanitation facilities including toilets and washrooms. At present, AAR Japan continues to provide assistance to young girls commuting to and from school in Haripur district, which holds 3 refugee camps and is said to have around 84,000 refugees. The schools within the refugee camps, as well as the Pakistani schools that are accepting refugees, are our primary focus.
Children from one of the schools at the refugee camps(Nov.30th,2016)


Towards a ban on Killer Robots: Formal talks begin in 2017

Programmed robots choosing their targets on their own and killing them-in order to prevent this grim realization, AAR Japan has been working to ban Killer Robots. 

From 12 to 16 December 2016, the 5th Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was held at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. As a steering committee member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition of civil society, Natsuki MATSUMOTO of AAR participated.

To prevent the possible tragedy

CCW is a convention which consists of a main treaty and five additional protocols that restrict the use of inhumane weapons, such as weapons with fragments undetectable by X-rays, landmines, booby traps, incendiary weapons, blinding laser weapons, and weapons which may cause unexploded ordnance. In recent years, the possibility of restricting lethal autonomous weapons systems(LAWS) is being argued, urged by civil societies led by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. In this conference, the main focus was on whether we could reach an agreement on setting a GGE (Group of Governmental Experts) in 2017. For 3 years since 2014, there was only
a one-week long informal session per year as an opportunity for each government to collectively discuss the issue. If GGE is organized, however, it would provide opportunities for longer official discussions, which will then encourage governmental talks and initiate a great step forward for the adoption of legally binding documents that would regulate the use of LAWS.

89 countries and regions participated in the session (16th Dec 2016)