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Marking the Japan earthquake anniversary

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Trains in Tokyo paused. Sirens sounded. And children across the country quietly lit their paper lanterns.

These are just some of the ways Japan marked the anniversary of the 9.0 earthquake that set off a massive tsunami and nuclear disaster a year ago this Sunday.

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Reuters/YOMIURI, courtesy Trust.org - AlertNet.

When reading about the anniversary this weekend, I stumbled upon a poignant photo gallery from The Guardian. One picture—a 7-year-old girl walking through the rubble where her house used to stand—really stuck with me.

I wondered what my own daughter would think in that moment. What would she ask me? What would I say?

When the earthquake hit last March, Oxfam America’s web site was flooded with traffic. Though Japan is a wealthy country with a strong capacity to respond in emergencies, Oxfam supporters were eager to help, so we directed their donations to Japanese agencies that were helping vulnerable and marginalized groups get access to the aid they needed. Overall, Oxfam and our partners provided cash and food for more than 900 pregnant women and mothers, food for young children, and a hotline and counseling services for about 9,000 people. To help ethnic minorities, who might otherwise be unable to integrate into the national aid response, we arranged for multi-lingual translation services, and distributed more than 20,060 portable and solar-powered radios.

Oxfam’s response is planned for an 18-month period. But it will take a lot more than one or several charities and NGOs to restore what was lost. According to one report, “the cost of rebuilding dozens of cities, towns and villages on higher ground is expected to cost Japanese taxpayers $230 billion.”

For those who survived, the recovery can’t be measured in time or dollars. Yuko Sugimoto, became a symbol of the tsunami when she was photographed searching for her son, Raito.

Now Raito “won’t let me leave him, even for a minute,” Sugimoto told The Guardian. “When we had tsunami warnings after March 11 he was physically sick. He’s doing his best to appear normal, but I know that on the inside he is still in a great deal of pain.”

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