Disaster Relief

Disaster disadvantage [infographic]

Last year’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was all-consuming for a time, dominating the news and mobilizing compassion from all corners of the world. During those first few months, it was hard to imagine that Haiti’s suffering could fall off the radar.

But shortly after Haiti’s one-year anniversary came fresh disasters—New Zealand’s earthquake and Japan’s quake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Scenes of destruction in formerly functional cities, tragic stories, and the threat of radiation riveted media attention and provoked fears that something this bad could happen to us. (And then it did, with last month's killer storms and tornadoes in the U.S. South.)

"We’re all still alive"

Editor's note: Last night, I received the following email from Laura Reinhardt, who is in Alabama:

The man sitting next me on the plane looked out the window as we approached Birmingham, Alabama. He pointed out the path of destruction left by the April 27 tornadoes.

“That’s the spookiest thing I ever saw,” he said. “It’s like someone took a giant vacuum cleaner to the earth.”

[caption id="attachment_4477" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="An aerial view of Tuscaloosa showing just how wide-spread the tornado damage is. © 2011 Laura Reinhardt/WV"][/caption]

Seeing it from the air and being kind of awed by nature’s power is one thing, but getting on the ground and seeing tin roofs curled up like ribbon, walls ripped away to reveal the inside of someone’s life, and then meeting people like 10-year-old Morgan Adams makes it all much more personal.

Morgan came to the house while I was interviewing his neighbor Connie McDonald. He told me about neighbors down the street who were worse off than they were. He’d been helping them to clean up the debris.

[caption id="attachment_4474" align="aligncenter" width="456" caption="A fallen tree on the family's old Volkswagon Beetle, the car Morgan hoped to have one day. © 2011 Laura Reinhardt/WV"][/caption]

We walked outside to look at the tree the tornado had knocked over through the roof of his family’s kitchen. He said to me: “You coming down here doesn’t bother me, but people who just drive by and almost get in a wreck staring at us, that bothers me."

When disaster strikes home

Editor's note: World Vision's Nathan Looney reports from his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, that while neighborhoods in his immediate area were spared, towns just 30 minutes north and south have been completely devastated. Nathan, who happened to be visiting his family for the Easter holiday, will connect with our incoming assessment team tomorrow as they jumpstart World Vision's response.

I’ve seen countless pictures of destruction and hundreds of video clips of unimaginable devastation. In my few years at World Vision, I’ve sat in meetings sifting through images and articles, looking for the ones that best tell the story.

At times, those pictures and stories ended up just being a tool to me, a means to educate our donors, a device to appeal for donations. Their utility masked the unique personal story that existed beyond the letters, pixels, and paragraphs.

[caption id="attachment_4416" align="alignright" width="238" caption="Residents inspect the aftermath of overnight tornadoes that left this suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, in ruins April 28, 2011. Photo: REUTERS/Marvin Gentry"][/caption]

Two days ago, my perspective changed. That’s what happens when the “before” in a stack of before-and-after photos isn’t just an image, but a place you’ve been, a place frequented by the people you love.

I had traveled home to Alabama to visit my family for Easter. On Wednesday morning, the sound of tornado sirens woke me. For the remainder of the day, the television stations pre-empted their regular programming to talk about the storm, and the even deadlier storms that could be coming that night.

It’s common in the South for the broadcast outlets to cut into programming during severe weather outbreaks, but this was the first time I had ever seen them interrupt their schedule to warn of an upcoming outbreak. The tone of the meteorologist was ominous, almost pleading.

As evening approached, so did the storms -- tornado after tornado, many of them caught by news tower cameras and traffic cameras. They were like cyclones you see barreling across a Kansas plain in a movie, except these were placed against the backdrop of a city skyline -- my city’s skyline.

World Vision responds to storms and tornadoes in American South

Editor's note: At World Vision's office in New York, Mindy Mizell is coordinating media efforts concerning our response to the deadly storms and tornadoes in the American South.

URGENT: World Vision is responding to the devastation left by deadly storms in Alabama, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Mississippi, as well as the levee break in Missouri. We are working with local partners to distribute first aid kits, hygiene supplies, and other essential products to some of the hardest-hit communities.

An assessment team is also preparing to survey the damage in Alabama and look for ways to partner with churches and other local organizations to help the most vulnerable children and families.

A long road ahead for Japan

Some humanitarian disasters occupy a few days worth of headlines -- if that -- and then quickly become a distant memory, if they're remembered at all.

The Japan quake and tsunami, in my opinion, has been the opposite. On March 11, we were instantly exposed to a flood of media coverage on the devastation in northeast Japan and the gravity of the nuclear crisis created by the crippled power plant. That coverage didn't subside much in the weeks to follow. On some level, the headlines and news clips about this historic natural disaster seem to have rendered the crisis more of an ongoing suspense film than a real-life story about human suffering.

One month after the disaster, I must remember to view the events in Japan in the latter context. Some 31 days since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, there are still thousands homeless, still thousands missing, and still thousands who must rebuild their lives from the rubble that this tremor has left behind. This isn't a movie or television program that I can turn on or off based upon my level of interest. The people of Japan certainly can't.

To that end, World Vision is still there -- and we will be, for the days, weeks, and months to come, helping children and families recover a sense of normalcy, stability, and independence. Japan's tragedy may eventually fade from the 24-hour news cycle, but our commitment will not. Check out the updates below on what we've done so far, and what we have planned over the long term.

Child-Friendly Space opens in Japan

Editor's note: In the aftermath of tragedy and disaster, World Vision uses Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) to care for children by providing them with a safe place to learn, play and emotionally recover from the trauma they've faced. (For more on how we use CFS, read Freedom of imagination) The following was shared with us by Nanako Otsuki, communications officer with World Vision Japan.

Zenin syugo, meaning "everyone gathering together", is the name children in Tome City have come up with for their new playing ground, a World Vision CFS. The name fits perfectly for its purpose, providing children with a venue to come together and share their experiences as they begin the road to recovery.

All the children come from Minami Sanriku, a town that was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami. Right now, they're living in an evacuation center. They don't know when classes will start again; most of their schools were destroyed. Most of them have lost their homes, and many have loved ones who have been confirmed dead. They seek a sense of normalcy after having their lives turned upside down.

"What I want to do"

[caption id="attachment_3438" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Staff at the Child-Friendly Space encourage the children to write and draw their desires. (Itoh Kei/WV/2011)"][/caption]

In the first gathering here, World Vision’s Child Protection Specialist, Makiba Yamano, and other World Vision Japan staff sought to hear the voices of the children. The children wrote down what they wanted to do at the CFS on a piece of paper and made their favorite figure with origami paper.

“I want to play a piano!!” (Minaho, age 12)

“I want to play soccer with eight people.” (Rin, age 8 )

“I want to play cards with other friends.” (RIe, age 12)

“I want to play baseball with everyone.” (Takahiro, age 11)

"What makes me worried"

[caption id="attachment_3439" align="alignright" width="237" caption="Takuma (age 11), Takahiro (age 11), and Syoki (age 12) write "what makes them worried." (Itoh Kei/WV/2011)"][/caption]

The children also wrote down “what makes them worried” and shared their experiences with one another.

“I wonder if I can go to the same junior high school with my old friends.” (Shiori, age 12)

Suffer together, rebuild together -- notes from a Japan aid worker

March 29, 2011- It’s 7:00 am, an aftershock shakes the building awake. It's big, lasts for maybe 30 seconds. Even two weeks after the quake and tsunami, tremors and ripples continue to wreak havoc and remind survivors of their fears and losses. I’m in Miyagi, one of the hardest-hit areas, with World Vision’s emergency response team. We’re....

Freedom of imagination

One of the many measures being planned by World Vision to care for the needs of children after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are Child-Friendly Spaces — safe, supervised learning and playing places where kids can be kids in a post-traumatic environment. They receive psycho-social "first aid" through counseling and structured activities like playtime, music, and art.....

Pros 4Japan in Uganda

In partnership with World Vision U.S., a group of professional football players is in Uganda this week doing humanitarian aid work with PROS FOR AFRICA. The athletes become pros 4Japan, too, helping to raise funds and awareness for children affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan

The players are asking people at home....

8.9-magnitude earthquake hits coast of Japan, island nations face tsunami warning

An 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit near the northeast coast of Japan today. Pacific Rim countries are bracing for potential tsunamis. World Vision staff members are on high alert, preparing to respond.

Staff on high alert across region, preparing for response: Asian, North American, and South American countries on the Pacific Rim are facing tsunami...

Coming 'home' to uncertainty

When the president of Sudan, Omar Al Bashir, visited the South Sudanese city of Juba a few days ahead of the January 9 referendum, I was among the thousands who turned up to welcome him. Despite the scorching sun, I humbly joined my countrymen to welcome His Excellency the President. He reiterated that he would be the first to recognize...