It’s been a hectic year to date dealing with a recovery operation in the north of Sri Lanka for people displaced by the war, a flood relief to recovery operation for 1.2 million people where we are just starting the transfer of cash payments for house repairs and grants for livelihood, and in addition, our daily Red Cross work in organisational development and risk reduction.
Today we drove to a beautful place called Mirissa where we will see in the Sinhala and Tamil new years which start early on Thursday and it's good to get away from Colombo as everything shut for 5 days. Mirissa is on a cliff top overlooking the sea, which on Boxing Day 2004, a tsunami killed over 32,000 people in Sri Lanka, many the villages I see below.
Naila drove the four hours to Mirissa which gave me time to think about events of the past few months. It’s just over one month since that cruel and destructive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and seven weeks ago, Christchurch was ravaged by the 2nd destructive quake in six months.As I drove south down the coastline I saw billions of dollars of tsunami recovery work.
Governments rise or fall on how they handle earthquake or tsunami recovery operations. Haiti is a very recent example as is Indonesia where the Government did an excellent job with tsunami and Yogyakarta quake recovery and the President swept back into power. What is clear from my experience is, give one Government Ministry full powers and set up a ‘one stop shop’ so the affected people, contractors, NGOs, insurance companies, other Government departments and other stakeholders, deal with one empowered authority.
I received an informal update today from my old colleague and friend, Naoki Kokawa that he sent out on behalf of the Japanese Red Cross. Kokawa and I worked during the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, Pakistan earthquake in 2005 and tsunami operation off and on during the first five years. I also read an interesting article today by John Sparrow, our IFRC communication man on the ground in the affected areas in Japan, another.old colleague. I have put his article at the end of this posting.. John has also been a major writer for the World Disaster Report over the years and it is good to have someone with his analytical skills on the ground.
Having friends and family caught in the middle of the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February this year, and then friends and colleagues involved in the earthquake in Japan on 11 March, I find I have got emotionally involved in both these tragedies.This is unusual, as I try to remain detached, or as much as possible, to keep necessary objectivity. Having been involved in 16 earthquake operations over a long career, I try to analise and dissect what is going on, and to learn from these two countries which have high earthquake building codes and strong enforcement mechanisms, combined with excellent rescue services and civil defence.
As Kokawa said, “ The situation in Japan is moving very hastily from relief into early recovery phase.Heavy machines and trucks are working all over the place to remove debris from the totally flatten towns and villages along the coast. Many big ships are still occupying space here and there, because they have to be removed by the responsibility of owners. Hundreds destroyed vehicles are collected and piled up in open spaces. Most of roads are cleared, and survivors have to their destroyed houses to seek for any memorable things from the remains.”
What I find fascinating is the speed in which Japan has got into construction in what appears to be a transitional type shelter or is it permanent? As reported by the local agency Kyodo, 36 temporary residences in the town of Rikuzen-takata, one of the areas most affected by earthquake and subsequent tsunami, have been built within a month. The first people moved in yesterday.
Japan’s Miyagi prefecture has begun building 1,110 temporary homes as regional authorities seek to resettle more than 243,000 people displaced by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Construction will begin in 13 cities and towns, including the prefectural capital Sendai, with the first phase taking about a month to build, said Masanori Takahashi, a spokesman at Miyagi’s department of public works. Building has already started in neighboring Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, which along with Miyagi were the hardest-hit by the disaster.
On the other side of the equator, down under, plans in Christchurch are well under way for thousands of Christchurch people to be housed in temporary accommodation while their quake-damaged homes are repaired. As early as Friday 18 March, the Department of Building and Housing sent a request for proposals to construction companies for up to 2500 modular homes which would likely be placed on public land such as the A&P showgrounds.
They would be available for people having their homes repaired, but temporary housing would also be needed for an out-of-town workforce arriving to help rebuild the city.
.A fleet of 350 campervans was unveiled on 6 April at Canterbury Agricultural Park to provide temporary housing for as many as 18,000 people left homeless by the Feb.22 earthquake.
Arrangements for portaloos to accommodate the camper village were also being arranged, according to a blog posted on the grassroots community website Rebuild Christchurch.
New Zealand has taken the bold step of setting up a Government department (CERA) or authority to run the earthquake recover operation. This is similar to what the Government in Indonesia did and it worked very well.
• have overall responsibility to manage the post-earthquake recovery of Christchurch and Canterbury
• make Christchurch better than before
• make the recovery as efficient as possible
• achieve recovery as soon as possible work with other authorities, NGOs, the community, and private sector
For those working in large recovery operations there are two reports I recommend that can be downloaded on the internet:
A ripple in development. Long term perspectives on the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami 2004 and the Tsunami Legacy - Innovation, breakthroughs and change.
Some of the best brains in the recovery business and millions of dollars have gone into these reports
A ripple in development. Long term perspectives on the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami 2004
A joint follow-up evaluation of the links between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD)
This report is a follow-up evaluation of linkages between immediate relief, rehabilitation (or reconstruction) and development (LRRD) related to the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The first LRRD evaluation was carried as part of the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) set of evaluations in 2005-06.
The LRRD2 evaluation report covers experiences up to the end of 2008 in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, i.e. from the four years after the disaster. A number of organisations and government agencies have supported this evaluation in various ways, with the aim to provide conclusions and lessons learned that are useful for mitigating the consequences of possible future disasters.
One very helpful part of the report is the first Thematic Scope: This theme captures the process and the outcomes of return to normally functioning government and community functions which does not necessarily means a return to status quo ante. Also it covers the transitional nature of humanitarian agencies and NGOs and how they facilitate or disrupt return to a normal situation.
The tsunami legacy - Innovation, breakthroughs and change
With an operation of such unprecedented scope, a number of useful lessons have been learned across the recovery spectrum about what worked and what did not. To take stock of these collective and countryspecific findings, this report asks if those involved in this massive undertaking were able to achieve takes its cue from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's words - "it's not enough to pick up the pieces. We must draw on every lesson we can to avoid such catastrophes in the future" - and from the call of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, President Bill Clinton, to "build back better."
Build back better resonates with what the Governments of New Zealand and Japan are saying but eacg are taking slightly different paths. I am following with deep interest.
The other day I was discussing with a friend about the large owner driven housing programme we are working on in the north of Sri Lanka and I speculated whether Christchurch (CERA) should be looking at a part owner driven housing programmes with contractors working with owners. Or, the owner, or a family member being the builder's off-sider, the plumber's labourer, so owners have a say, and take ownership of their new houses. What I have learnt from six and a half years of working with the tsunami operation is that people should be at the centre, the affected people. Owner-driven housing programmes have on the whole, been very successful in many parts of Asia, and years quicker than solely contractor-driven houses.
Now to the article I mentioned written by John Sparrow.
The other side of Fukushima: “Radiation? Oh, that.”
The old man sits on the crowded floor of the sports hall in Fukushima city and worries. He does little else and, at night, when the hubbub dies down in what is now an evacuation centre, when the coughing around him lessens and he finally drops off to sleep, he worries in his dreams.
Coming from a blighted place swept by an 18-metre tsunami and in the shadow of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant he has reason to. His world has fallen apart.
Tadao, 81, a retired farmer, worries first about his missing wife. Since the morning of 11 March, when he left her at home to make a routine visit to hospital, he hasn’t seen her. When a warning came of the approaching wave he found safety on the hospital’s roof but she is one of almost 15,000 people still missing. Although the death toll climbs higher and higher as the missing are found, this old man cannot accept that she will never return.
He worries about his granddaughter, who occupies the place next to him on the sports hall floor. Will she find a good high school away from their home area? How will she be able to cope away from her friends, in a school where she will be a stranger?
He worries too about the home that is no longer where he left it, picked up and dumped somewhere by an unstoppable tide of debris-strewn water. He worries about the land his family has farmed for generations and which is part of the 23,600 hectares of farmland engulfed by the tsunami in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. The tide removed the topsoil, left debris in its place, as well as sea salt that will seriously damage the farmers’ crops for a considerable time to come.
And radiation leaks from the nuclear plant? Does that worry him as well? He looks up, bemused. “What? Oh that. Mmm.”
Farming has ceased in his area until soil tests have been carried out, and the fear of radioactivity may affect the sale of what is grown. But the old man hasn’t thought too much about that yet. He has more important things on his mind.
A few metres away, farmer Shohei Matsumoto and his Filipino wife Mary have thought about radiation. It is why they are here. The tsunami did not reach their village of Katsuraomura, but it is within the outer circle of the exclusion zone set up around the nuclear plant.
Within 20 kilometres of the troubled reactors all but a few who refused to budge have been evacuated. But people living between 20 and 30 kilometres away had an option: stay if you will, the government said, but if you do stay, stay indoors. The Matsumotos chose to leave. They took the advice of the local mayor to evacuate, along with most of their fellow villagers.
Now they worry how long it will be before they can go home. Their house is still standing, their land is intact and the rice planting season is approaching. If they are to make the next rice harvest, farmers must start to prepare seedlings soon, but soil tests must first be completed.
Mary Matsumoto says, “We just want to go back. I miss it so much.” Her husband says calmly, “We will… when the government tells us it is safe.”
Like the Matsumotos, most of the 1,200 people camped out in this hall of a city sports park are from the exclusion zone’s outer circle, with maybe 20 per cent from the inner one. They include those from Minamisoma city, 25 kilometres from the power plant, which saw 50,000 of its 75,000 inhabitants flee within two weeks of the tsunami and the magnitude-9 earthquake that caused it.
How long they will stay depends on many factors; when asked to hazard a guess, Akira Watanabe, director of the park, will only say, “Until they are gone.” The numbers may even increase, he thinks, because many other evacuation centres are located in schools, and schools re-open in April after Japan’s spring break. “If other centres close, the people may come here,” he says.
In the meantime, Tadao will continue to worry, and he will not be alone. Japanese Red Cross Society medical teams running centre clinics, and mobile units serving smaller and more remote ones, report growing distress among the displaced, particularly among the elderly. This is just one more reason why the Red Cross continues to strengthen psychosocial support operations.
On their rounds through centres, staff are encountering more and more troubled people – people facing loss, fear and insecurity, even some left distraught by discrimination. If you come from deep within the exclusion zone, you can find yourself branded untouchable, turned down by landlords when you seek to rent an apartment, even shunned by hairdressers, because they wrongly, absurdly, fear you carry radiation.
But more often than not it is human loss that causes trauma. Red Cross nurse Noriko Maezawa tells of an 80-year-old woman she saw standing alone in a corner, staring at her. “She looked as if she wanted to talk to someone so I went up to her and said, ‘How are you feeling, mother? Are you well?’”
She said she was. Then there was a pause and she added, “But I found my cousin’s body yesterday. It had lain there all that time. It was black. If it hadn’t been for a birthmark I wouldn’t have recognized him…”
Such stories are commonplace in the centres, stories of mental pain and of unexpressed anguish because here, in the open of a sports hall’s crowded floor, on a thousand little territories staked out with Red Cross blankets and bundles of all that people still possess, there is no room for public grief, no time perhaps either, to consider much beyond tomorrow.
There, say the Red Cross medical teams, lies a long-term challenge. The wounds you cannot see take the longest time to heal.