Table Speech

Learning from Disaster Recovery Assistance Initiatives

February 20, 2019

Mr. Seiichi Kanzaki
General Secretary,
The National Council of YMCA of JAPAN

 Our organization does not deploy rescue or medical teams in disaster situations. What we do is to tap into our extensive YMCA network and collect necessary information on-site to identify how best we can provide assistance to disaster-stricken areas. In addition to sending our advance teams, we collaborate with other organizations to provide long-term assistance by taking into account changing needs of the local communities over the course of time. As an international NGO, I believe YMCA has an instrumental role to play in assisting people with special needs, including small children, the elderly and people with physical or mental disabilities, so that we will “leave no one behind.”

 When the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred in 1995, we immediately set up our volunteer center and went around disaster survivors living in their own houses, schools, shelters or tents to find out what they needed the most. We also tried to formulate an efficient and effective delivery system of emergency relief supplies and in-kind donations to save on limited storage space. Our volunteer activities included setting up large-sized tents in parks and serving hot meals to disaster survivors for three weeks. All the kind words of appreciation I received from them remain in my memory and motivate me to start afresh in my duties to assist disaster recovery initiatives.

 It is worth noting that 1995 came to be known as the “first year of the volunteerism era” in Japan. An increasing number of volunteer groups and individuals have come to support various disaster recovery assistance initiatives. While there were a few disappointing cases where some organizations engaged in turf wars that debilitated quality initiatives, it was so encouraging to see the majority of such organizations and individuals worked in close collaboration to overcome different challenges and issues. Let me quote two such collaborative networks formulated to make effective use of human and financial resources to ensure quality assistance by volunteers in disaster situations. One is the “Joint Committee for Coordinating and Supporting Voluntary Disaster Relief” with the Japan Business Federation, Japan NPO Center, National Council of Social Welfare, Japanese Red Cross Society and the Central Community Chest of Japan as its member organizations. The other one is the “Japan Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster”, known as JVOAD.

 In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, a considerable number of organizations, institutions and businesses succeeded in providing assistance in a concerted manner, each making effective use of its strength. The 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake was an unprecedented case where as many as 2,000 evacuees took refuge in one building and a private organization undertook its overall management. Effective networking among volunteer organizations ensured no one was left behind in the rehabilitation process that sought to enhance self-help and mutual support.

 It is encouraging to see many young people work as volunteers both in and out of Japan, get first-hand experience and learn many things. I believe they will come to form the foundation for an inclusive and peaceful future.