INDONESIA-PHILIPPINES: Unable to help tsunami-hit Japan
Radiation alert after earthquake, tsunami hit Japan on 11 March
JAKARTA/MANILA, 23 March 2011 (IRIN) - Japan’s record magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami on 11 March, complicated further by the country’s worst nuclear accident triggered by the earthquake, have highlighted the high degree of earthquake preparedness but also the limits to what Japanese or international search and rescue (SAR) teams can achieve in these circumstances.
Of Japan's roughly 22,000 dead and missing fewer than 100 died as a result of collapsing buildings, Arjun Katoch, head of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team in Japan supporting the government’s relief effort, said on 21 March.
Well-trained Japanese SAR teams, as well as the rapid deployment of army personnel, meant that despite 128 countries and 33 international organizations offering assistance, the government only invited teams from 15 countries.
“This is not your typical urban search and rescue operation, which entails pulling people out of collapsed building structures. Most casualties were from the tsunami, a testimony to Japan’s earthquake readiness. Chances of rescues in a tsunami-hit area are slim because with a tsunami, people are found either dead or alive,” he added.
Disaster-prone Indonesia and the Philippines offered help but were largely turned down.
A 15-member Indonesian SAR team, including three doctors, was deployed in Japan on 20 March, but its work was limited to evacuating Indonesian citizens, Gagah Prakoso, spokesman for the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told IRIN.
“The Japanese government limits our movement because of concerns about radiation," he said, adding that the team was deployed in the northern prefecture of Miyagi on 21 March where it found 16 stranded Indonesian sailors.
|Even though we have a lot of experience, Japanese rescue workers are better trained and better equipped
Prakoso said the government had offered to send 60 rescue workers two days after the disaster but approval by the Japanese government was delayed and only 15 rescuers were allowed to go.
"Japan relies on its own resources because they are well-prepared. Even though we have a lot of experience, Japanese rescue workers are better trained and better equipped," he said.
He did not say how long the Indonesian rescuers were expected to stay in Japan.
Philippine offer turned down
Meanwhile, an offer by the Philippines to send an 80-member SAR team was turned down on the grounds that the Japanese government already had enough troops on the ground.
President Benigno Aquino in talks with Japan's ambassador to Manila, Makoto Katsura, last week offered to immediately deploy the SAR team.
"I reiterated the offer of the Philippine government and our people to assist them in whatever way and capacity we may have capabilities for. They did tell us they are awaiting word from their Home Office as to what type of assistance [they will need from Manila]," Aquino told reporters at the weekend.
He said Katsura stressed that rescuers to be sent to Japan should prepare for extreme weather, and be self-sufficient in fuel, food and shelter while navigating a large swathe of the disaster zone.
"There are certain specifications that their Home Office will be issuing so that the people who will help would become a help, and not more of a burden," Aquino said.
"We have adequate training in rescue operations, road clearing, restoring communication lines, retrieval operations and evacuation management," said Emerson Carlos, one of Manila's rescue team leaders, but conceded Japan's cold weather could be a challenge.
The UNDAC mission officially ends on the 23 March, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s latest situation report
. “In total, 890 International Search and Rescue (USAR) specialists and 37 rescue dogs from 20 teams representing 15 countries have supported the Japanese rescue teams in this disaster response,” the report said.