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The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Activities [2011年07月03日(Sun)]

Professor Yokota, a man that has covered the world in human rights activities

The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Activities No. 69
-What the victims have gone through will never be forgotten-

Professor Yokota was Professor of Law in the Faculty of Law at Chuo University and has been globally active in human rights issues. Currently he is the President of The Center for Human Rights Affairs.
The interview was published in the Center’s monthly magazine “ALLUYA”(meaning “gathering of people” in Quechua, Peru).

ALLYU 2011 -6-15

Mr. Yohei Sasakawa
Chairman of the Nippon Foundation
Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy

Dr. Yozo Yokota
President, The Center for Human rights Affairs

(The interview took place at the Nippon Foundation on May 6)

What the victims have gone through will never be forgotten
〜The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Activities〜

A little boy wandered helplessly through the burnt-out ruins from the great bombing of Tokyo during World War II, with his mother. Not a penny in their pockets, no food to eat, forlorn…. This is Yohei Sasakawa. He is the man who took prompt, meticulous and brave action when the unprecedented massive earthquake and the resultant tsunami hit the northeastern part of Japan on March 11. Never did this man forget his devastating formative experience of his childhood days.

Yokota: I am grateful for the time you have given me today, knowing what a very busy person you are. While you are deeply engaged in the work of supporting the victims of the great earthquake, you never forget to give your attention to the overseas relationship that you have built over the years. You do not have even a minute to stop.

Sasakawa: It is my pleasure to have you today, but I regret that I don’t have much time as I will be going to Jordan from tomorrow.

Yokota: You have taken action literally as fast as lightening. I was honestly astonished to learn that, already on the day after the disaster, you were out in the streets of Tokyo calling for donations.

Sasakawa: I myself have a few unforgettable experiences as a child, the Great Nankai Mega-thrust Earthquake (1946) and the Fukui Earthquake (1948) when I was in primary school, and the worst of them was the bombing of Tokyo (1945) that I experienced at the age of seven,

Yokota: So it was the memory and experience of the Tokyo bombing is what drove you take speedy action in the disaster-stricken areas.

Unforgettable feeling of Despair
Sasakawa: Yes. My mother and I, we wandered through the city of Tokyo that was completely burnt-out. We went from one relative to another, one acquaintance to another and barely survived. I experienced what it is not to have any money. I therefore know very well how helpless one could be without money and a helping hand.

Yokota: So it was those experiences that drove you to provide financial aid directly to the victims right away, wasn’t it? Many people were impressed that the Nippon Foundation should provide condolence and consolation money to the families of the deceased and/or missing. I am sure that such a bold idea never crossed anyone else’s mind.

Sasakawa: That is right

Yokota: Did the Nippon Foundation directly deliver the gift money?

Sasakawa: Yes, I was there too and we did everything on our own. We only asked the government to give us the list of victims and their addresses. It was impossible to ask the offices of the disaster-affected cities and towns for any help as they themselves had so much to do and were already working around the clock.

Yokota: I was told that the total amount was \1.5 billion (US $18.75 million) but how much have you provided in financial aid so far?

Sasakawa: To date we have used 57% of our total plan.

Yokota: I understand that you have not forgotten the bitter experience of some 60 years ago and that is what drove you to this very worthy cause. What is still more moving is that you put yourself in the shoes of the victims. In addition to financial support you have also announced a support of up to \1 million (US $12,500) towards volunteer activities which will bring immeasurable effect towards the disaster-affected areas.

Sasakawa: We could not be concerned about regulations and qualifications at a time of a great confusion like the one Japan is experiencing now. So our selection of recipients was done only through document screening. We wanted to help those volunteers and NPOs who were not receiving any financial support while they were taking time away from their own regular work to come to the disaster-hit areas from all parts of Japan, managing from what little financial resource they have and even paying their own way to come and help the disaster-hit areas. The work of reconstruction and restoration would never be accomplished without the large number of volunteers. Yet there is no support from the government for them. They just toil away devotedly, sleeping in their sleeping bags and eating the food that they had brought with them. I wanted to support these unselfish acts of love, both materially and morally.

One minute, one second matters
Yokota: It is liable that in emergencies actions of goodwill and devotion tends to get obscured. It is indeed admirable that you have immediately stood up to take action in the delivery of condolence and consolation money and the assistance to the NPOs.

Sasakawa: Public donations, whether official or semi-official needs to be allocated fairly and equally and therefore it takes time to reach the victims. It was also the same after the Hanshin-Awaji (Kobe) Earthquake. We must race with time when providing assistance because speedy assistance is what brings unimaginable relief to the victims. It is also important that we honor the goodwill of the people who donate thinking, without a doubt, that their contribution would be delivered to and put to good use in the victimized areas as soon as possible. Therefore it is the private organizations, like ourselves, who are able to move with flexibility that must provide substantial assistance.

Yokota: In any massive disaster what functions normally is paralyzed and millions of victims are left without any help. You have taken prompt action to jump in and to attend to those that have been overlooked. I think your action has made everyone realize the necessity of acting promptly. The government took action to persuade the Japanese Society of the Red Cross to deliver public donations speedily, and for the first time, the Community Chest also took action to collect donations, didn’t it?

Sasakawa: But I have doubts about the intervention of the government in private donations given to non-governmental organizations as it violates the neutrality of the organization. We are just doing what we are able do based on our experience and accumulated data of the support that we have given to approximately 60,000 private organizations projects in the past.

Yokota: Condolence money and support of volunteers are two of the Nippon Foundation’s initial relief activities but I was impressed at your third support, that to the fishermen. You have announced that you would provide a maximum of 15-year loan of \100 million free of interest with a 3 year grace period to those fishermen who have lost their fishing vessels. You said at the press conference that “The men who work at sea have lost everything. They are even thinking of abandoning the sea. We cannot let the fishing industry of the Sanriku region die,” I am sure all who have heard these words were touched and even some thought that you had some very close ties with the Sanriku region.

Sasakawa: No there is no particular reason. It is well known that the Sanriku region was one of the leading fishing grounds of Japan and their seafood was enjoyed throughout Japan. Yet, these fishermen have had their vessels taken away by the tsunami and are at a total loss. I came to think of them with a simple hope that they would regain the energy to go out to the sea again. I have already been told that many fishermen have been stimulated and that they have been morally uplifted with a hope that they might be able to go back to sea once again.
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