Monday, 21 March 2011

Earthquake crisis and consumer organisations in Japan

Michelle Tan, Vice-Chair of NCOS Japan, reports on the situation of Consumers International member organisations in the crisis and gives a local perspective.

Our members who are mainly in the Tokyo area are all fine, but their daily lives are being disrupted due to the power cuts and panic buying of certain items such as rice and toilet paper.

Ms Anan of the Shodanren has let me know that everyone at her organisation is fine too. One of the office staff was in the disaster area at the time of the earthquake/tsunami, but thankfully he made it back to Tokyo.

I live in Kobe which is over 800 kms from the disaster area. We are almost completely unaffected by what is happening in the north-east.

Consumer Law News Network is based in Osaka, which is near Kobe and so, like me, they are mainly unaffected.

I am unaware of the situation with Nishoren (Consumers Union of Japan).

The foreign media's reporting of the nuclear crisis is quite different from that here. I am Australian but I am not planning to leave despite what foreign governments (including my own) are saying to their nationals.

The Japanese have their experts (including academics, former public officials etc) here and they are on TV every day giving us their honest opinions about the situation here. I don't think we are in the great information vacuum that the foreign press makes us out to be.

Of course, the situation is dire, and the outcome could go either way. But the experts I have heard speaking on TV here have not given up hope yet, and I still believe that the with the combined efforts of Tokyo Electric Co, the defence forces and police/fire departments, the nuclear situation can be brought under control. In the last few days, the situation with the reactors seems to have stabilised to some degree, which is welcome news.

Disaster relief and fund raising are very important areas in which NGOs/NPOs can help with in so many ways. Some NGOs seem to have been able to start helping out in the shelters already, but they have been doing it very tough. One problem is that the victims are spread out over such a large area this time (unlike previous earthquakes) and with infrastructure, such as roads, destroyed/badly damaged and other logistical problems it has been very difficult to get food, medicine and other essential supplies to where it is needed urgently. In the last few days the situation has improved somewhat in this respect.

Unfortunately, in the foreign media's coverage of the disaster the plight of the victims in shelters, many of whom are elderly seems to have been overshadowed by the radiation threat. For many people, simply staying alive is the main issue, and they haven't even begun to think about the long-term possible effects of radiation.

Elderly victims are falling ill and some have died in the shelter because they could not get access to their own or any other medication. Children are also becoming ill. Influenza is spreading in some of the shelters. The enormity of this crisis is almost beyond comprehension for most of us.

Japanese people are very appreciative of the support from around the world, but it really is only the beginning of a very long struggle back to normality for many people. I'm sure ongoing concern will be much appreciated.

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