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Support for Church of Japan in Wake of Disaster

[March 15, 2011] Episcopal Relief & Development is sending support to the Nippon Sei Ko Kei (NSKK; the Anglican Communion in Japan) to help with its initial emergency relief efforts in response to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. This quake was the strongest to hit the country since officials started keeping records over 100 years ago.

The current death toll stands around 3,500, but it is estimated that at least 10,000 people have died as a result of the disaster, and it may be weeks or even months before an accurate tally can be reached. Approximately 30,000 people from the most devastated areas are still unaccounted for. Shelters are accommodating 500,000 people who have lost their homes or been evacuated. Food and fuel supplies are running low in many areas, and both transportation and communication infrastructures have suffered severe damage, hampering the ability of relief agencies to respond.

"We are standing by the Church in Japan during this difficult time," said Nagulan Nesiah, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. "As you can imagine, the needs are overwhelming and it will take time to assess the best ways to support the Church and Japan as they move toward recovery."

Adding to the crisis is the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plants, which has prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 people. Three of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been completely disabled after a series of fires, explosions, leaks and partial core meltdowns. Early Tuesday morning, a pool storing spent fuel rods at a fourth reactor lost cooling capacity and began to boil, creating hydrogen-laced steam that exploded and sent radioactive particles directly into the atmosphere. Most of the facility’s 800 workers have been evacuated. There is currently a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the plant, and people living 20 to 30 kilometers from the facility have been urged to stay indoors with all windows and vents closed. Local authorities are continuing to screen and treat people for radiation exposure.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference in Tokyo late Sunday: "I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war. If the nation works together, we will overcome."

In the affected dioceses of Tohoku and Kita Kanto, the NSKK is working as quickly as they can to collect information and assess needs. However, in many cases local churches can’t be reached by phone or by land, so it is impossible to get a complete grasp of the casualties and physical destruction caused by the disaster. So far it has been reported that there are no casualties among clergy, though the Cathedral in Sendai (Diocese of Tohoku) and two churches in the Diocese of Kita Kanto have suffered major damage.

Donations to Episcopal Relief & Development’s Japan Earthquake Response Fund will provide vital support to the NSKK for their immediate work in assessing and responding to the disaster. In Tohoku, the Church is planning to establish an emergency relief center at the diocesan building, and leadership at the Provincial level is developing a response structure to organize and support a network of volunteers to carry out the relief and restoration work.

"What we can do… is pray," wrote the Most Rev. Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, Primate of Japan and Bishop of Hokkaido. "Prayer has power. I hope and request that you pray for the people who are affected, for those who have died and for their families. Pray for the people involved with the rescue efforts, and in particular pray for Tohoku and Kita Kanto dioceses."

After the emergency phase, Episcopal Relief & Development will continue to provide additional support as the NSKK assesses its needs and makes longer-term recovery plans. The agency will be liaising with other Anglican and international bodies, sharing information and working to ensure that the overall response is coordinated and follows the vision of the NSKK. Episcopal Relief & Development has collaborated with the NSKK in the past, through broader regional partnerships to address climate change, peace-building and humanitarian initiatives.

Outside Japan, the effects of the tsunami are widespread. Churches and partners around the Pacific region have been impacted, including those in Hawai’i and on the west coast of the US. Episcopal Relief & Development has been in contact with affected dioceses and is standing by to offer assistance.

"Please continue to pray for all those affected by this enormous tragedy, both in Japan and around the Pacific," said Nesiah. "Especially during this time where the full scope of the disaster is not yet known and physical damage is preventing relief activities from moving ahead, prayers for mercy, comfort and protection are the most important."

To support Episcopal Relief & Development's work, visit www.er-d.org, or call 1.800.344.7626 ext.5129. Contributions can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. As an independent 501(c) (3) organization, Episcopal Relief & Development takes its mandate from Jesus' words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development strengthens communities today to meet tomorrow's challenges. We rebuild after disasters and empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.



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