Three years ago today, the strongest earthquake ever to hit Japan and the subsequent tsunami devastated its northeastern coastal communities, killing more than 15,000 people.
Coincidentally, this weekend will mark three years since the start of the Syrian crisis that continues to impact millions of lives in the Middle East and beyond.
These notable anniversaries — both devastating — depict a marked difference between what the humanitarian world refers to as “slow-” versus “sudden-” onset emergencies.
Sudden-onset emergencies are catastrophic events like tropical storms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. They happen in minutes or hours and require well-coordinated humanitarian responses to help meet the needs of people quickly.
With staff and emergency supplies pre-positioned all around the globe, World Vision is prepared to respond quickly to disasters. We are often among the first responders to disasters, getting boots on the ground before others arrive. For example, when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November, even while our own staff’s homes and families were affected by the storm, they were out helping others.
And we don’t just go in, help out, and leave — we stay for the long haul. In Japan, World Vision was active for the first three months after the earthquake, providing emergency items like blankets, clothing, hygiene kits, school supplies, food, and water. We also established Child-Friendly Spaces — where children could learn and play in safety while they recovered and while clean-up operations began — and started community evacuation centers.
Since those first three months, we’ve continued working in Japan, focusing on restoring children’s schooling, supporting livelihoods like fishing, developing communities, encouraging disaster preparation, and assisting evacuees while focusing on children’s programs and sustainability.
The earthquake and tsunami three years ago were devastating, but today the survivors are on the road to recovery.
A second kind of emergency that World Vision responds to are slow-onset disasters. A “slow-onset” emerges over time, based on a combination or sequence of negative events.
A recent example is the Horn of Africa food crisis and famine, which occurred two years ago due to drought. Other slow-onset emergencies include current conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, South Sudan and, of course, Syria.
In fact, Syria is one of the worst humanitarian crises today. To date, 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria, and more than 2.5 million have fled as refugees.
After a sudden emergency, we can step in quickly and begin helping people recover. But with Syria, even three years later, the road to recovery is unseen since the conflict continues unabated.
Recently, World Vision USA examined the general awareness of the American public on the Syrian crisis. In summary, our survey shows that the majority of Americans believe that Hurricane Katrina impacted more people than the conflict in Syria. Recent numbers show that this is not the case (the hurricane impacted 1.7 million people, versus 9.3 million Syrians). You can read a full summary of the report here.
With a long-term crisis like Syria, relief work is more about sustaining — sustaining life, health, and education.
Many Syrian children have been out of school now for three years, and even those that can get to school fall behind, due to learning in a different language. Syria is at risk of losing an entire generation of children to this crisis.
World Vision is providing remedial education classes for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan to help catch students up and get them back in school. We’re sustaining life and health in some of the same ways as with a sudden-onset emergency: providing food, blankets, hygiene kits, and access to clean water and sanitation.
As of today, there’s no end in sight to this crisis, and the people that need help today will also need it tomorrow.
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There are three ways you can help. First, come alongside World Vision and help us sustain life, health, and education for the Syrian refugees by donating to our Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund.
Second, add your voice to our petition and call for an end to the crisis.
And third, join us in prayer for the people of Syria, especially the children. See our prayer points here.