Flooding and landslides have devastated parts of western Japan, resulting in the highest death toll caused by heavy rainfall in over 3 decades.
Current situation (numbers accurate as of 13 July):
- 214 fatalities
- 21 missing
- 24,150 homes damaged or destroyed
- 7,085 evacuees across 13 Prefectures
- Over 2 million people were told to evacuate their homes.
How can you help?
It’s human nature to want to help after seeing people suffer. But sometimes trying to do good can inadvertently do harm — and in emergency situations, good intentions must be accompanied by effective, carefully considered actions. The 2011 tsunami and subsequent disasters such as the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake have taught us a lot about how to respond effectively to disasters in Japan.
So… with that in mind, here’s an outline of things you can do, things to consider, and things to avoid, when trying to help.
1. Don’t Send Stuff (Yet)
- Search & Rescue is still under way, with life-saving as the top priority. This is not the time to be sending things like blankets, food and water (unless you have identified a very, very specific need with a local person or organisation who can properly deliver, store and manage the supplies responsibly).
- Many NGOs are on the ground doing needs assessments — in the coming days and weeks, they will likely start calling for certain items, once the situation has stabilized a little more and logistical capacity (e.g. roads) have recovered.
2. Volunteer (when the time is right)
- Unless you are a trained and experienced responder, don’t go to affected areas in the first few days. This is not the time to be “self-mobilizing”, for the reasons mentioned above. It is simply too early, and uncoordinated “help” may actually hamper rescue efforts.
- Many nonprofits, local governments, and social welfare councils (社会福祉協議会 or shakaifukushikyogikai）will likely start calling for volunteers in the coming weeks, once they are ready and able to take in and coordinate volunteers safely.
- When that time comes, make sure you get Disaster Volunteer insurance from your local government office.
- Be as self-sufficient as possible (local resources such as accommodation, food, and water must go to survivors first and foremost). Do research into what you should bring — food, water, tent, first aid kit, safety equipment (gloves, helmet, steel-toed shoes, etc.).
- Check this website which lists the Social Welfare Councils actively seeking disaster relief volunteers across the affected areas (Japanese only).
- Some nonprofits may start calling for volunteers (e.g. Peace Boat, IDRO Japan, United Earth, & It’s Not Just Mud) so keep an eye out for updates. You can also see the Foreign Volunteers Japan Facebook page for volunteer opportunities in English.
- Right now, donating money is the easiest and most effective way to support survivors.
- Personally, and having worked full-time in this industry for several years, I recommend donating directly to smaller organisations on the ground, as opposed to larger organisations or general funds, as they tend to be leaner and have higher operational efficiency (but that’s up to you).
Here are a few English-language options:
- NGO Peace Boat
Japan-based nonprofit doing relief work domestically and internationally.
- Japan Platform: Western Japan Disaster
Consortium of NGOs, businesses, and government agencies which disperses funds to member organisations in Japan.
- GlobalGiving: Flood & Landslide Relief in Japan
Crowdfunding platform which disperses funds to member organisations in Japan.
- Japan Israaid Support Program (JISP)
Israeli nonprofit based in Japan.
- U.S.-Japan Council: Japan Flood Friendship Fund
USJC, in collaboration with other organisations, has established the Japan Flood Friendship Fund (JFFF) to aid those affected.
- Go Fund Me: West Japan Flood Victims
Fundraiser organised by an individual living in Okayama Prefecture.
- The Mainichi
Mainichi Newspapers is accepting domestic donations in Japanese yen.
The e-commerce juggernaut is also collecting donations in English.
Japanese-language donation pages:
Of course, there are also many, many more options for donating if you can read Japanese and have a Japanese bank account/credit card.
This list from JANIC gives a comprehensive outline of some established groups who are accepting donations.
Other Useful Links
2. J-ANPI (Searches personal safety info registered in its database or Google Person Finder, by name or phone number)
3. DisasterMessage Board Web 171 by NTT:
4. Japan Meteorological Agency (up-to-date weather info)
5. Getting a Disaster Victim Certificate
6. Legal Information for Foreign Nationals (Multi-lingual)
7. List of websites offering natural disaster info in English
8. Updates in English & Japanese from NGO Peace Boat
9. Typhoon & Rainstorms Safety Guide: Fire & Disaster Management Agency
For more about disasters in Japan, see “Fukushima’s Nuclear Exclusion Zone: 7 Years On” or “Hokkaido Earthquake 2018”. You can also see the Explore Tohoku project which follows my 600km walk along Japan’s tsunami-affected coastline to document the region’s recovery, 6 years on from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.