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Rebuilding Japan


Japan destructionThe world has looked on in astonishment as Japan grapples with the most horrific natural disaster in its history. The rolling and images of destruction that have held many of us captive tell the story of immeasurable human suffering and unparalleled loss — the story of communities in crisis.

The tragedy has the makings of a major motion picture. First, an earthquake of such magnitude that its 'aftershocks' are as intense as the quake that devastated Christchurch. Next, a tsunami that demolished coastal communities, claimed up to 20,000 lives, and has seen more than 450,000 people evacuated. And finally, the nuclear crisis that threatens not only nearby communities but also Japan's crops and food exports.

Japan's outstanding earthquake preparedness prevented much further suffering. Short of avoiding the coastline entirely, there is little a country can do to protect against the threat of a tsunami. But earthquakes, however sudden and unexpected, need not always present the same challenge.

In a nation like Japan, precariously situated on the infamous ring of fire, earthquake preparedness is paramount. And in a nation like Japan — renowned for its technological prowess — earthquake-resistant design is fundamental to its cities and its infrastructure.

No matter how well prepared Japan's cities may have been, the nation now faces the grave challenge of rebuilding. In this, Japan can avail itself to its economic strength and the support of the world's economic structures. Grassroots agencies like Caritas will also have a role to play.

Already Caritas Australia's partners in Japan are providing emergency relief for hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee, and the Caritas network anticipates supporting the recovery over the coming three to five years. We are yet to fully understand the extent of this crisis.

As the nuclear crisis unfolds and the longer-term humanitarian response begins to take shape, news outlets will continue to share reports from the field. But as international airstrikes are launched against Libya, as controversy grows around Australia's asylum seeker detention centres, and as NSW prepares for its election this weekend, Japan's tragedy will inevitably slip off our news radar.

Without broad public interest, most humanitarian crises remain hidden to all but those in their midst. This is where agencies like Caritas have a vital role to play. Caritas Australia's commitment to highly vulnerable communities extends far beyond the daily news round.

Caritas Australia's Project Compassion enables us to set aside funds each year in readiness for the emergencies ahead. Its Emergency Response Fund enables us to support our partners in response to small-scale emergencies and allows for a rapid commitment of funds whenever disaster strikes.

In times of dire need, of immense suffering, and of unthinkable humanitarian crisis such as that which we have witnessed in Japan, public support for these appeals is invaluable. Headlines draw the attention of the nation and millions of dollars are mobilised to ensure the survival of entire communities and longevity of a humanitarian response.

But the great challenge for aid agencies like Caritas is to keep sight of our underlying objective — the eradication of extreme poverty and the pursuit of justice — even in times of dramatic crisis. While saving lives is crucial, transforming lives is a far greater challenge.

This relies upon our commitment to deliver sustainable agriculture, safe water infrastructure, and access to healthcare and education. Our presence in an emergency response is vital, but it is our longevity that will truly make a difference. That is as true in Japan as anywhere else.

Jack de GrootJack de Groot is Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Australia, Secretary to the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development, and Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University. 

Topic tags: Jack de Groot, Japan, earthquake, caritas australia, project compassion



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Existing comments

Will Caritas be able to deliver humanitarian support, or will it be obliged to put evangelistaion before recovery?

Richard Byrne | 24 March 2011  

My son and family and other expats from Japan currently residing in Mantra hotels Perth close to their company's Perth office reflect on their good fortune to work and live, and have children at school in earthquake designed buildings. Nuclear plants and their radiation leakage is their major concern.

anastasia | 28 March 2011  

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