Japan disaster initial response under way
TOKYO (BP)--The Southern Baptist relief effort in Japan is moving forward in spite of uncertainties about the ongoing nuclear crisis in the northeastern part of the country.
A "second wave" team is joining the two-member assessment team who arrived March 12, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of the Baptist Global Response international relief and development organization, told Baptist Press March 18. Two addition of disaster relief specialists, in joining the two assessment experts, will facilitate the launch of an initial Southern Baptist disaster response.
"This initial response team includes members of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network from South Carolina and Alabama," Palmer said. "They are heading into Tokyo to set up a command center for a unified Southern Baptist disaster relief base."
Because government restrictions prevent a large-scale overseas volunteer effort, the initial relief projects will be conducted in partnership with Japanese Baptists and other humanitarian groups, Palmer said. The projects will focus on earthquake survivors outside the tsunami zone, where the nuclear crisis is most serious.
"Because so much of the U.S. media coverage is on the nuclear crisis in the tsunami zone, we aren't seeing how serious the situation is in other areas," Palmer said. "The area devastated by the earthquake is much larger and the conditions in those areas are very serious. We can do a lot to help people in desperate need because of the earthquake while we wait for the nuclear situation to be resolved."
The area around Sendai in northeastern Japan has been gravely threatened by a nuclear crisis since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Four of the plant's six reactor units have experienced fires, explosions or partial meltdowns. Emergency responders have been dumping tons of water on the reactors in hopes of preventing a disaster.
Based on the disaster assessment thus far, the initial relief effort will focus on life-essential items: basic food items, water, blankets, hygiene supplies and kitchen utensils, said Pat Melancon, Baptist Global Response's disaster management specialist.
"Based on past experience and what we're seeing on the ground in Japan, things like this will be the greatest help to people who are just trying to survive while the country's recovery effort gets under way," Melancon said. "These are the things our on-the-ground partners in Japan are asking for."
The first round of relief supplies also will include radiation detectors, Melancon added. "We are taking the possibility of radiation exposure very seriously," he said. "We're going to be real careful with that part."
Leadership hopes the new team will be able to set up supply channels within a week so that Southern Baptist relief supplies can begin moving into the country, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam directs Baptist Global Response work in the Asia Rim.
"We know how anxious our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief specialists and other volunteers are to come to Japan and help," Wolf said. "They know people are in desperate need, and they are willing to take whatever risks are necessary to take the love of Jesus to hurting people.
"The reality, however, is that right now we can't go ourselves, so we will focus on praying and giving so our partners in Japan can get the job done," Wolf added. "Because of the scale of this disaster, recovery will be a long-term challenge, and we believe there will be plenty of opportunities to go in months to come. For now, donations to Japan relief, especially to the general fund, are the critical need."
The senior pastor of Tokyo Baptist Church said he has been amazed at the outpouring of concern from around the world.
"I have been overwhelmed with emails from people and churches from all over the world who want to help, people we know and people we don't know," said Dennis Folds. "These are difficult times but it is a time like this that we can make an impact for the greater good, for the Kingdom."
Mark Kelly is senior writer and assistant editor for Baptist Press. The International Mission Board has established a relief fund for the Japan earthquake. Donations may be sent to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23230. In the memo line write "Japan Response Fund." Or you can give online by going to imb.org and clicking on the "Japan response" button. For further information, call the IMB toll-free at 1-800-999-3113. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.