Press Release

International Medical Corps Team in Hardest-Hit Coastal Communities Finds Severe Shortages of Food, Water, Medicines; Acute Need for Mental Health Support

International Medical Corps’ emergency response team is assessing the post-disaster needs of isolated coastal villages north of Sendai. In addition, the team is relaying information obtained from evacuation center assessments to International Medical Corps’ regional office staff in Japan to enable them to promptly assist with coordination efforts.

The team found that supplies of food and water are now generally improving in the evacuation centers, but some specific food items and medications are still needed. In response, International Medical Corps’ team is delivering packaged baby foods and medications including nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops, and plans to distribute more as needed.

Fatigue, stress, and insomnia are being reported among many evacuees, while mental health and psychosocial support for children and adults is increasingly recognized as a major priority in the response. “We saw first-hand how extensive the material and human damage of the tsunami and earthquake was,” said team member Dr. Mutsuo Ikuhara. “Displaced people lost everything and require much emotional support. We are deeply moved by the strength and dignity of the people and their terrible suffering.”

International Medical Corps is collaborating with local agencies to establish a system to provide counseling to survivors and plans to provide training, technical materials, and support to a Life Line where people can receive mental health services by phone.

Many are without heat in an area where temperatures have dipped below freezing and snow has been falling – putting survivors in danger of exposure. Hypothermia is a serious risk, particularly for the elderly in evacuation centers.

International Medical Corps’ assessments include: Minami-Sanriku, Kesennuma, Riken-Takata, East Matsushima, and areas north of Ishinomaki. In the fishing and tourist town, Shizugawa, International Medical Corps found significant damage, with approximately 85 percent of the village destroyed or washed away by the tsunami. The town has a number of evacuation centers in the foothills, where some 3,500 people are taking shelter.

Based on assessments at evacuation centers and a regional hospital where critical patients have been referred, International Medical Corps will work to fill essential gaps – including addressing the need for food, water and chronic medicines at shelters, providing psychological support, and if needed deploying four medical teams currently on standby. International Medical Corps is also looking at how to support vulnerable displaced groups, such as the elderly, single women, and children, and those who chose to stay in their homes in damaged areas, rather than going to an evacuation center.

While Japan has significant capacity to manage emergencies, the magnitude of this disaster – coupled with the threat of nuclear exposure – has been large enough to warrant international assistance.International Medical Corps is providing logistical support and technical expertise to local health authorities based on more than 25 years of experience in disaster response, including following the 2004 Southeast Asian Tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The 9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that buried many northern towns in a wall of water. Official figures confirm 11,000 deaths and 17,000 missing as a result of the tsunami and earthquake, while another 243,000 people are living in evacuation centers. It has been described as the largest earthquake on record for Japan. Hundreds of aftershocks continue to shake the country, with a second large earthquake of 7.4-magnitude. International Medical Corps has been a leading responder to emergencies in more than 50 countries, including the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 2010 Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods.

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