“In areas that have experienced a natural disaster, hospitals have often been destroyed and doctors themselves may have been injured. There is a kind of medical vacuum in such areas,” says Dr. Kondo Hisayoshi, a member of the medical team. “We focus on filling the vacuum, alleviating the disastrous situations and saving as many lives as possible.”
Dr. Kondo, who now works for the Research Center for Radiation Emergency Medicine of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and ISGS Japan, has had a great interest in the activities of the JDR ever since he was a medical student. He registered with the medical team soon after becoming a doctor. Dr. Kondo has been dispatched to Nicaragua after a hurricane in 1998, to Taiwan after an earthquake in 1999 and to Mozambique after floods wreaked havoc in 2000.
“We all are highly motivated people,” says Dr. Kondo. “But having led the team as sub-leader in Mozambique, I also feel that it is a tough job for a team of around 20 members who are hastily gathered from different hospitals to carry out medical activities in short periods of about two weeks in a country with different language and cultural backgrounds.”
To alleviate some of the difficulties, the medical team often cooperates with JICA’s volunteers who work in disaster affected countries. Under the program called the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), JICA dispatches people between the ages of 20 and 39 as volunteers to help developing countries build their nations. Currently, about 2,600 volunteers are active on two-year assignments in 64 countries. Since these volunteers understand the local situations well, and are flexible enough to fly to the spot in urgent situations, the medical teams have regarded them as highly reliable.
Dr. Kondo, who was assisted by JICA’s volunteers with medical expertise when he was sentra Nicaragua in 1998, knows the value of their help. “In many cases, the number of patients we can treat is limited by the number of interpreters available, and many of the interpreters hired are not medical professionals. In that sense, JICA’s volunteers were very helpful as they know the local language and some have medical background,” he says. So far, JICA’s volunteers have supported the activities of the JDR on 11 of the 30 occasions on which the JDR has been dispatched.
JDR team members, on the other hand, also have enough knowledge and experience to complement JICA’s other projects. Once the rescue and relief activities of the JDR have been completed, JICA has often provided support for reconstruction and technical cooperation for development. There is usually a time lapse between relief efforts and reconstruction. When an earthquake struck part of India last January, however, JICA personnel arrived to survey local needs while the JDR Team was still active in the area, making possible the exchange of information among them. JICA intends to make connections between relief efforts and reconstruction projects as seamless as possible, to take full advantage of the experiences, expertise and mobility of the JDR team in upcoming projects.
Currently, many volunteers and specialists dispatched by JICA to developing countries are working under different frameworks, but they all share the same ideal of contributing to developing countries. As local alliances steadily progress among them, JICA continues to improve its person-to-person assistance.
For more information on the JDR, visit JICA’s home page: www.jica.go.jp/ english/activities/schemes/09dis.html (English) or www.jica.go.jp/activities/jdrt/ index.html (Japanese).
The Japan Disaster Relief Team
The JDR was founded by building upon its predecessor, the Japan Medical Team for Disaster Relief (JMTDR), which was established in 1982. The rescue and expert teams were added when the Japan Disaster Relief Team Law was enacted in 1987. The law was partially amended in 1992, enabling Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to be dispatched for activities such as supplying water and delivering equipment.
While the rescue and expert teams consist of policemen, fire fighters, coast guard officers, and other public officials of different ministries and agencies, the medical team consists mainly of about 600 volunteers registered at JICA, including private-sector doctors, pharmacists and nurses.
Under the direction of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, JICA is also in charge of providing material aid for emergency international assistance. To respond promptly to needs after natural disasters, JICA stores blankets, tents, medical equipment and other items in warehouses located in Japan, Singapore, Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom.