Why are we there?
- Natural disasters
- Video: Month in Focus June 2011
- Japan: Temporary clinics built for disaster survivors
- MSF psychological help for disaster survivors
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March devastated the northeastern coast of Honshu island.
Approximately 15,000 people were killed and 6,000 were injured. At the end of the year, some 5,000 people were still missing.
Japanese emergency teams were largely able to respond to the needs of survivors, and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) offered specialist assistance.
The day after the quake and tsunami, staff made their way to affected areas by helicopter and began providing survivors with medical care and distributing relief items.
In the weeks that followed, MSF distributed 4,030 blankets, 6,500 litres of water, a generator for a temporary shelter in Baba-Nakayama village and 10,000 hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels.
MSF also provided kits containing batteries, candles and matches to some 4,000 people and donated 110,000 euros’ worth of medicines, medical equipment and supplies.
Work in Minami Sanriku and Taro
MSF worked principally in the northern coastal towns of Minami Sanriku and Taro, where the main healthcare facilities were totally destroyed.
From March to June, medical teams conducted some 4,840 consultations. Patients’ main complaints were hypertension and upper respiratory tract infections.
MSF delivered two 30-seater buses to authorities in Minami Sanriku to help transport patients from evacuation centres and temporary housing to medical facilities.
At the request of people staying in a centre in Baba-Nakayama, MSF designed and helped construct a semi-permanent shelter close by. The team supervised 25 evacuees building a private space for approximately 30 women and children, which reduced overcrowding in the existing centre.
In Taro, MSF designed and built a temporary clinic, for use until a more permanent structure is completed. This was handed over to local health authorities in December.
MSF also delivered a vehicle specifically designed to transport disabled patients living in and around Taro.
After the initial emergency response, the team shifted focus to the mental health needs of survivors, offering psychological support, especially for people living in evacuation centres.
MSF psychologists carried out activities to raise awareness of mental health issues and the support that was available.
Staff conducted interviews with the media, including a local radio station set up by survivors of the disaster. They discussed how to identify potential problems and manage stress, how parents can help their children, and where to seek support.
MSF staff accompanied nurses on visits to temporary shelters and provided direct training in mental health during consultations with patients. They also visited schools to advise teachers on supporting children post-trauma.
In April, a café was set up near the Bayside Arena of Minami Sanriku. Here, people could talk in an informal setting, with a team of MSF psychologists on hand to provide counselling. For those in need of extra support, staff offered one-to-one sessions.
The main problems reported by people at the café related to stress management, difficulties with memory and concentration, and sleeping disorders due to crowded conditions in temporary housing. Older people were often concerned about dementia.
At the end of June, MSF handed over its activities at the café to a local association. More than 4,100 people had used the space, and 646 people had received psychological assistance.
Over 970 individual support sessions and 295 group sessions were held in Minami Sanriku and Taro.
At the end of 2011, MSF had four staff in Japan. MSF began working in the country in 2011.
Ha Young Lee, coordinator of the MSF psychological team
“Although some people have their own coping mechanisms and can deal with the situation in which they find themselves, others find it very difficult.
"People can have intrusive memories of the event, flashbacks, nightmares. They can withdraw and not want to communicate. Some will not be able to sleep or eat. And all of these things can make them very different than they used to be and can cause significant suffering.
“Children are particularly vulnerable – it can be difficult for them to understand what is going on. They have limited space where they can freely express their emotions. They have lost the space to learn and play.”