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Hawaii News

Aid for Japan slow to reach hard-hit areas

    Rui Sato, 2, played with a Japanese Red Cross member at an evacuation center in Fuku­shima, Japan, yesterday, a month to the day after an earthquake and tsunami struck the country. Tokyo was rattled yesterday by a strong aftershock that swayed buildings.
    Volunteers cooked soup yesterday for evacuees at an evacuation center in Soma, Fuku?shima prefecture, northeastern Japan. A group of 21 volunteers from Tokyo and Sai?tama brought 2,000 meals Sunday for about 500 evacuees at the shelter.

Japanese officials say it’s uncertain how soon disaster relief — including $1.6 million raised in Hawaii — will reach families in devastated areas of Japan.

Local governments in Japan, a necessary liaison in distributing aid to those in need, are not functioning, said Tada­teru Konoe, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, in a recent Reuters report.

"This is a big challenge, and it is not something that we can resolve on our own," Konoe said. "Fairness and speediness do not go together easily."

However, the Japanese Red Cross will transfer about $800 million to Japanese officials this week to begin handing out cash grants to survivors.

These grants will range from $2,800 to $4,100 per family, depending on the extent of the loss they suffered. The grants will be distributed directly by local government officials later this month, and future cash grants are likely in the coming months, according to Red Cross officials.

Sunday’s Kokua for Japan telethon raised about $960,000, bringing the total donations from Hawaii-related Red Cross events to about $1.6 million. All money raised in Hawaii was sent directly to Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a fund has been set up for Red Cross officials in Japan to draw from.

Some donations came from other states like Florida and Minnesota, but most was raised in Hawaii, said Hawaii Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Cora­lie Chun Mata­yo­shi.

The American Red Cross’ total donations among its more than 600 chapters nationwide is about $158 million.


How the Red Cross is helping earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan:

» The Japanese Red Cross has mobilized 579 teams from 92 hospitals, and an additional 163 teams, including about 3,000 staff members, are being prepared for deployment. Japan has about 2 million Red Cross volunteers.

» More than 125,000 blankets, 183,000 items of clothing, 26,000 relief kits and 11,000 sleeping kits have been handed out to survivors staying in Red Cross evacuation centers.

» The first 36 of 70,000 temporary homes were given to families in Iwata prefecture. These homes are equipped with essential appliances like refrigerators and washing machines.

» This week the Japanese Red Cross will transfer $800 million so local Japanese governments can begin the process to distribute cash grants.

» More than 188,000 are still displaced by the disaster, many of them staying in more than 2,200 evacuation centers spread across 17 prefectures.

The American Red Cross has already sent contributions of $60 million to the Japa­nese Red Cross for the earthquake and tsunami response. An additional $500,000 was given to the United Nations World Food Programme for the delivery and storage of relief items. In total, about $1.3 billion has been collected worldwide.

Of the total amount raised, the Red Cross uses up to 9 percent of it for administrative costs. Mata­yo­shi said it’s used toward paying for bank fees, credit card fees, phone setups, text messaging and federally mandated thank-you letters to various donors.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has asked why the proc­ess to distribute funds directly to victims is slow. Konoe told Reuters that deciding how to distribute relief money is difficult because of how large the disaster was, and that it involves several local authorities and agencies.

The Red Cross’ efforts in Japan could take years. Mata­yo­shi said volunteers might be in Haiti for an additional three to five years. Haiti suffered a catastrophic magnitude-7.0 earthquake last year.

"In Haiti we built the trains and we built temporary housing," Mata­yo­shi said. "And we gave food vouchers and helped people with money."

The Japanese Red Cross has already begun setting up temporary homes in affected areas. Mata­yo­shi said 36 homes were given to families in Iwata prefecture on Friday.

The Red Cross’ goal is to erect 70,000 temporary homes, equipped with essential appliances like refrigerators, hot water and washing machines, to help more than 280,000 people. That effort is expected to cost about $160 million.

Much attention has been paid to the Japan relief effort, and rightly so, Mata­yo­shi said, but the chapter’s 42 full-time employees must also focus on local fundraising.

The Hawaii Red Cross has had to respond to 17 disasters in Hawaii, which includes several house fires, last month’s tsunami and Friday’s fireworks explosion in Waikele which killed five people.

About 90 volunteers were positioned with supplies throughout the state in anticipation of March’s tsunami, Mata­yo­shi said.

The local chapter’s operating budget is about $5 million, and its fundraising goal every year is about $3 million.

"Everybody’s a volunteer, so it’s hard to be fundraising for both things," Mata­yo­shi said. "Everyone wants to give to Japan, which is great, but we also have our own needs, too."

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