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What Happens When Disaster Strikes

We find out how Mercy Relief responded to the recent flooding in Japan.

Just last week, a hydropower dam in Southeast Laos collapsed, causing 13 casualties and counting. Earlier this month, torrential downpours in Western Japan caused flash flooding and landslides, with 179 casualties and more than 8 million evacuated.

Despite this, disasters bring out the best in people. After all, more lives could have been lost, if not for the work of humanitarian organisations that not only respond to such disasters, but also work with the affected community to rebuild lives. We find out how one such local organisation, Mercy Relief, responded to the recent flooding in Japan.


The first 48 hours are crucial

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Photo Credit: Mercy Relief

It’s 9.30 AM, and Mercy Relief’s International Programmes team has just started work for the day. They actively monitor information channels for natural disasters within Asia daily, so that a disaster response operation can be mobilised quickly if needed. Today, the casualty toll from the floods in Kurashiki, Japan has risen and they receive an appeal from their local partner in Japan (AAR Japan). Everyone snaps into action.

First, a core response team is formed. Their main goal is to gather information about the disaster, the immediate needs of the affected communities, a possible response plan and, if necessary, a fundraising strategy. This is compiled into a “9-Pointer”, which gets sent to their board for approval.

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Photo Credit: Mercy Relief

Once approved, the team busies themselves with applying for an international fundraising license from the Commissions of Charity and drafting press releases. It is imperative that the Corporate communications and International Programmes team work together and move quickly to provide assistance.

Meanwhile, Masahiro Ishizeki, 54, senior manager for Mercy Relief’s International Programmes, prepares to leave for Japan. Within 72 hours of receiving the appeal, he is in Kurashiki to meet with AAR Japan.


Relief is distributed within the first week

It’s a busy four days in Kurashiki for Masahiro, as he heads the relief efforts there. First, he meets AAR Japan to plan how they will distribute the relief. This is important, as there could be updates to the original plan – the needs on the ground can change very quickly, and the team must be agile enough to respond accordingly.

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Photo Credit: Mercy Relief's Facebook Page

Masahiro also spends three hours one morning in the home of a survivor, Mr Abe, helping to carry wet tatamis out of the house. It is hard work, and they must race against time. “If we can carry all the wet things out and dry the house structure, the residents might not need to reconstruct their house from scratch”. It is these interactions with those affected that help to give a better idea of what happened, and how they should respond.

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Photo Credit: Mercy Relief's Facebook Page

Once this is clear, they set out to get the relief items. This time, it’s omen noodles with Japanese fried chicken and curry. Relief items are never shipped from Singapore, and instead are purchased from the local market or suppliers in the affected country. This is partly due to high shipping costs, and partly so that they can ensure that the items are suited to local taste. Masahiro and his volunteers will pack the items into relief packs, and then distribute them to affected communities. “Our volunteers range from volunteers sent by our local partner, to residents, helping pack and distribute relief to their friends, families and neighbours.”

Masahiro will stay in Japan for 4-5 days, although this differs based on the impact of the disaster and how badly affected the community is. Before he leaves, Masahiro has one last debrief with AAR Japan.

Back in Singapore, the rest of the team manages the flow of information, ensuring that media enquiries are answered and that adequate funds are being raised to support their efforts.


Three months on

What happens once Masahiro is back? Mercy Relief’s involvement in the area will not stop there. The team will continue to monitor the situation and an additional relief trip is possible should a need arise. If not, they will focus on projects that help with recovery – helping the community regain their normal life and building it up to become more resilient.


5 tips for disaster giving

Keep this in mind when you donate to a disaster relief organisation, so that you can make the greatest impact!

  1. Send your donation as cash – this is the most efficient and fastest means to provide help for those in need.
  2. Want to give away your pre-loved items? Not all humanitarian organisations have dedicated space for in-kind donations, so make sure you check before you send your items over!
  3. Do also contact the organisation to determine exactly what they, and the affected communities, need before you send anything over.
  4. Be a skills-based volunteer! While you may be eager to volunteer overseas to help disaster-stricken communities, the reality is, they often need skilled volunteers like doctors and nurses.
  5. Do your research before you donate and make a commitment to support their work in the long haul.

Want to know more about the work Mercy Relief does? Get a behind-the-scenes look at their Ground Zero Carnival 2018, Singapore’s only humanitarian-themed event!

Celebrate Mercy Relief's 15th anniversary by helping them raise $1 million!

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