11
May

0

On our ninth anniversary, how do we face the reality of COVID-19? 

This April marked Peace Boat Disaster Relief’s ninth anniversary. We would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our volunteers, annual support members, private companies, grant institutes, cooperatives, religious organizations and schools for the generous support they have provided for our activities.

Disasters cause events that are beyond our imagination.

The novel coronavirus has spread rapidly around the world since it was discovered, and the number of cases continues to rise. Here in Japan, as elsewhere, the infection has grown, with devastating consequences for our health, economy, and social lives. This pandemic is a global disaster that is driving existing social systems into crisis.

We now fear the occurrence of combined disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as climate-related disasters—which we witness every year—and occasional earthquakes. Considering the frequency with which such disasters occur in Japan, we fear that the possibility of combined disasters is high. In addition, travel restrictions between countries may be extended. We anticipate that these circumstances will create enormous challenges for those affected by disasters, as well as any organizations and individuals attempting to support them.

For instance, many of Japan’s designated evacuation sites are in schools and public facilities, where evacuees are likely to congregate in large groups in gymnasiums or similar spaces. In these environments, it is difficult for evacuees to avoid closed space, gathering closely together and close conversation (3Cs). As a result, an increased rate of infections is of great concern in such situations. On the other hand, others may choose to remain in damaged houses or evacuate in cars for fear of contracting coronavirus, which could also lead to an increase in health problems. We therefore may need to change the existing system of operations when it comes to disaster response. It is also a concern that the humanitarian workers and volunteers will spread COVID-19 if they gather in affected areas for relief efforts. Consequently, we may need to reconsider how we organize relief efforts that revolve around providing disaster-affected individuals with in-person support, which we have previously treasured.

The Japanese Red Cross Society has noted three features of COVID-19 to which we must remain alert: sickness, fear, and stigma. The invisible virus spreads from one person to another, causing fear and anxiety. Such feelings often lead us to develop hate, prejudice, and discrimination, destroying our trust in one another and our social ties. We must be cautious about any statements that create social cleavages based on a person’s infection status, nationality, region, occupation, or age. In a society where divisions have emerged, it becomes difficult to help each other when necessary.

Peace Boat Disaster Relief has visited many disaster-affected communities in the past nine years. In doing so, we experienced a countless number of sad moments, but we also encountered many occasions to find hope through ties between people. We hope to connect and expand our circle of supporters to which anyone can relate while overcoming social divides. We will continue working to support disaster-affected areas, flexibly leveraging our experience, expertise, and networks while maintaining our efforts to prevent COVID-19 infections in a situation which is changing on a near-daily basis.

We believe it takes people to help people.

 

Yasuhiro Ueshima

Secretary-General

Peace Boat Disaster Relief