On March 11, 2011
horror unfolded in Japan as the Tsunami struck the island nation and wrecked
havoc along the
country's north-eastern coast
washing away entire communities along the Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima
The 9.0 magnitude Aid providers and health
workers are facing a series of challenges in the wake of this natural disaster.
The tsunami has damaged supply routes and there are concerns
about radiation leaks from a damaged
nuclear power plant. It has been discovered that food, tap water and milk have
been contaminated with iodine-131, a radioactive element.
• The death toll has been estimated
to have reached 8649 and approximately 12, 877 people are still reported
missing. The real estimate is expected to be much higher.
• Water supply and power supply has
been cut off in one million homes
• Thousands of buildings have been
damaged; the health infrastructure has been particularly affected. Many
hospitals have been damaged and a large number of health care providers are
either among the victims or, are living in evacuation shelters.
• There has been a large number of
elderly among the victims and survivors. Many are struggling in cramped
conditions in shelters with insufficient water, food, heating or life-saving
• Hospitals have run out of drug
stocks and medical supplies
• The extent of crisis resulting
from the tsunami is yet to be fully comprehended.
The biggest fears have been those surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
which is situated 150 miles north of Tokyo.
The cooling systems in all the six reactors within the plant
have failed after the tsunami creating a meltdown scare and fear of radioactive
material dispersion over a wide-spread area.
Round -the- clock work is being carried out to make the reactors
Nevertheless, there has been evidence that traces of radiation
has leaked into the atmosphere and has found its way into the food supply. This
information is particularly alarming.
Government officials and international health experts have gone
out of their way to reassure the public that RA- contaminated food need to be
consumed in large amounts to pose a health risk.
As a precautionary measure the government has been distributing potassium iodide tablets—which can
prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing the cancer -causing radioactive
This has also triggered a panic-buying spree in the USA and
other places. The WHO has even advised the public on how to avoid radiation and
when to take the pills. It has described the radiation scare as "serious" as it
had spread well beyond the 30 km exclusion zone.
quantities of iodine-131 and caesium-137
have been found in tap water in Tokyo. Officials claim that the quantities are
too small to act as a health-risk.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency "There is a
short-term risk to human health if radioactive iodine food is absorbed into the
human body. If ingested, it can accumulate in and cause damage to the thyroid.
Children and young people are particularly at risk."
Of greater concern is caesium-137, a radioactive element which
posed a serious threat during the 1986 Chernobyl
disaster. This RA material takes longer to break down and increases the
chances of developing cancer.
Despite rehabilitation work, Japan's health system is
ill-equipped to address long-term mental health problems triggered by the
Thousands of survivors, including 100000 children, will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and will
be in need of counseling to cope with their huge loss.
"Children we talk to say that whenever there's a tremor they are
scared that something is going to happen", says Stephen McDonald of Save the
Children, which now has a base in Sendai.
These children can develop behavioral or mental health problems
unless they are offered counseling.
The stories of the disaster are relentless and they continue to
pour in- such as those of the elderly with
chronic diseases being deprived of treatment or diseases such as
gastroenteritis and diarrhea being rampant everywhere.
"For the people affected
by the earthquake as well as the tsunamis, there are a number of issues: the
cold, as well as a lack of food and water", said Eric Ouannes, general director
of the Japan office of Médecins Sans
Frontières. "And the most urgent need is blankets to protect the most
vulnerable sections of the population against the cold."
An estimated 350 000 people, who are rehabilitating at the
2500 evacuation centers in Japan, have been provided with supplies of food,
water, medicines, fuel and blankets.
Despite all this is that there are thousands who
are out there who are waiting to be reached.