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The EU’s Assistance to 3.11 in Japan: Evaluation and Prospects

Although it has been a while since Japan’s 3.11 Earthquake, as a response to the ECFR’s analysis ‘Assistance to Japan after the tsunami’, this post will briefly present: (1) the evaluation of the EU’s disaster relief; (2) the lack of Japanese media coverage of the EU’s assistance to 3.11 in Japan; and (3) strategies for the EU towards the future disaster relief campaigns to Japan.

To begin with, Japan is truly grateful that the EU members played a significant role in providing basic supplies to the disaster area in the country without hesitation. The European Commission activated the Civil Protection Mechanism requested by Japan, and EU member states of various sizes contributed to the disaster relief either through this channel or bilaterally. The EU provision of basic supplies of blankets and bottled water was very helpful, not only for the homeless victims, but also for volunteer staff in Japan. The European Commission also made a financial contribution of 10 million euros to the Red Cross in order to help the homeless victims in the disaster area, and this too was a great help. In fact, basic supplies and financial support were very critical at the time of this unexpected natural disaster. Since it was volunteer staff that had to bring basic supplies to the disaster area with minimum transportation method, nothing but very basic goods were helpful. For example, although boxes filled with various products such as sanitary items, nappies, clothes, and toys were sent to the disaster area from local households, which were unaffected by the earthquake, many of them were denied to volunteer staff. Considering the time taken to unpack the boxes, classify them into categories, and distribute to those in need, it appears that they were considered ‘unwanted’. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge not only what is needed for the homeless victims but also what helps make volunteer staff’s work efficient.

In the meantime, what was unfortunate was that the EU’s assistance towards the disaster area was rarely featured by the Japanese media. Whilst the EU has already been widely recognised as an economic actor both by the public and governmental officials in Japan, it does not appear to have established a status as a legitimate political community there yet. The appropriate amount of media focus on the EU’s assistance would have increased its profile in Japan as a political institution, which can provide humanitarian assistance to the East in a very timely manner. However, the Japanese media coverage was primarily on the US operation called Tomodachi Sakusen, or Operation Tomodachi (Friends). This operation was conducted by the US Armed Forces from 12 March to 4 May 2011, and assisted the disaster relief with 24,000 personnel. Of course, it is reasonable that what the US, a close ally of Japan, provided to the disaster area was widely featured in the media, considering the unique and intimate relationship since the end of the World War II. However, despite that, the EU-Japan relationship has been being strengthened in both the economic and political arena over years, it was unfortunate that their humanitarian assistance was not featured to the same extent as the US operation.

Finally, it is crucial to strategise the EU’s future disaster relief plan towards Japan. It has been reported that roads destroyed in the disaster area were fixed within six days, and it appears that Japan is on the way to recovery thanks to the material and financial support from all over the world. Having said that, Japan still expects several earthquakes of different sizes, and the Tokyo area is no exception. Although Sendai suffered from the tsunami, Tokyo is expected to suffer from fire in metro stations and houses because of the overpopulation. Although it was Tokyo that reported the disaster and requested the European Commission for the disaster relief this time, it would not be the same if Tokyo were hit by earthquakes and fire. Although another large city such as Osaka could play the role that Tokyo did for Sendai, it would incur more panic and damage in Tokyo compared to the one in Sendai. Therefore, it is crucial for Tokyo to establish a hotline somewhere else so that the EU can communicate and act rapidly.

Consequently, my evaluation is that the EU member states played a significant role in the humanitarian crisis in Japan, in both material and financial terms. The provision of basic supplies was precise and the immediate action by the Civil Protection Mechanism deserves international recognition. However, it is still unfortunate that it did not get widely recognised by the Japanese public because of the lack of the media coverage: it is worth improving the public relations in future events. Finally, the rapid reaction of the EU was presumably realised through good communications with Tokyo. In the case that Tokyo would be affected in natural disasters in the future, it is crucial for both actors to ensure that a hotline is established outside of Tokyo.

ECFR’s analysis ‘Assistance to Japan after the tsunami’ can be found at http://www.ecfr.eu/scorecard/2012/issues/76



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