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On March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by an unprecedented magnitude 9 earthquake. The quake triggered a 10 metre high tsunami that submerged over 443 square km of coastal areas, destroying everything in its path and sweeping across cities, villages and farmland. Waves up to 30 metres high traveled as far as 10 km inland devastating the north east coast. Japan is now experiencing its worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War with more than 27,000 people are dead or missing, and well over 490,000 displaced. In addition, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have seriously damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Japanese government declared a state of nuclear emergency, which has forced the evacuation of thousands more residents. The nuclear situation continues to be a cause of great concern, and has hampered relief activities in the affected regions and across the country.


In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, local authorities in Ishinomaki faced extreme difficulties in putting a functional local emergency response in place as an estimated 30% of the city’s civil servants were killed in the disaster and many of those who survived have a severely reduced capacity to work, due to their own circumstances including loss of home and family members. During its assessment mission, Peace Boat found that only four out of the then 170 evacuation centers in and around Ishinomaki had an organized food distribution system in place. In this situation, at the city’s request, Peace Boat stepped in to support the coordination of meeting survivors’ basic needs of food, water and shelter.

Five months after the disaster, those left in the evacuation centres in Ishinomaki struggle to cope with a lack of privacy, an uncertain future, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Outside the shelters, people remain in their damaged homes without a stable infrastructure or secure access to food and water. The continuing aftershocks, lost businesses, lack of work and PTSD are but a few that are causing severe stress to a continuing uncertain future for survivors. Buildings that were not destroyed are filled with debris and thick tsunami mud, a health hazard, and physical and psychological barrier to re-inhabitation..

Clearing the mud is an extremely labour-intensive and physically demanding task, beyond the ability of many of the residents of Ishinomaki in their current vulnerable condition to carry out alone, especially for the large proportion of elderly people in the city.

Large numbers of people are needed to work together with the local community to clear this mud and salvage items from buildings, streets and port areas to facilitate the return of local people to their homes, businesses and daily life routines and support the earlier re-generation of the community.