The March 11th 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters for Japan in recent memory. In the past year, Singaporeans have been showing their support for the Japanese people in more ways than one.
Humanitarian Relief Efforts
When news of the disasters in Japan reached Singapore, the Singapore Government immediately offered our assistance. At the request of the Japanese Government, Singapore despatched a team of five Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) search specialists and five search dogs. This team arrived in Narita Airport on 12 March 2011, and was deployed to Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture the following day. The Singapore Government also contributed S$500,000 as seed money to a relief fund set up by the Singapore Red Cross. Former Ambassador of Singapore to Japan, Ambassador-at-Large Chew Tai Soo, was appointed as coordinator of our national efforts to support the Japanese people.
The first shipment of relief supplies from Singapore, comprising 60 tonnes of blankets, mattresses, bottled water, water containers and foodstuff from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Red Cross, arrived in Japan on 19 March 2011. A second tranche of 500 collapsible water containers was subsequently sent to Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture on 21 April 2011.
Relief supplies bound for Japan
Various organisations in Singapore pitched in to provide help in the affected areas. One of these groups was Mercy Relief. On 19 March 2011, Mercy Relief despatched US$50,000 worth of blankets, water and food to a designated supply base in the Tohoku region. Mercy Relief also deployed a total of seven relief teams to the Tohoku region over a period of four months and has worked with various groups and companies to help the disaster survivors.
The Singapore Red Cross has raised more than S$34 million in donations to date. The funds have since been earmarked for several major reconstruction projects, which will yield practical and direct benefits to the survivors.
SRC Chairman Tee Tua Ba visiting a temporary housing village in Taro Ward
In collaboration with the Singapore Red Cross, the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo has been working with our Japanese counterparts on four key projects:
1. Taro Support Centre, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture. This project was a collaboration between the Singapore Government, Singapore Red Cross and Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Construction of the 70 million yen (S$1.17 million) Taro Support Centre started after the signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation by then-Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Akihiro Ohata, Iwate Prefecture Governor Takuya Tasso and then-Singapore Ambassador to Japan Tan Chin Tiong on 22 July 2011. The centre was officially opened on 15 November 2011 with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque by representatives from the Singapore Red Cross, Singapore Embassy in Tokyo and officials from the prefecture and municipal governments of Iwate and Miyako City respectively. Apart from serving as an elderly care facility, the Taro Support Centre also provides consultation services for nearby residents who had been affected by the March 11th disasters.
SRC's Lim Theam Poh at the unveiling of the commemorative plaque at the Taro Support Centre
2. Rikuzentakata City Multi-Purpose Hall, Iwate Prefecture. Rikuzentakata City was one of the areas worst hit by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Discussions for Singapore to help in the construction of the approximately 700 million yen (S$11.7 million) multi-purpose hall started in May 2011. A Memorandum of Cooperation was signed by then-Singapore Ambassador to Japan Tan Chin Tiong, Iwate Prefecture Governor Takuya Tasso and Rikuzentakata City Mayor Futoshi Toba in September 2011. Construction is scheduled to start in the first half of 2012, and the multi-purpose hall is expected to be completed by end-2013.
Mayor of Rikuzentakata City Futoshi Toba signing the Memorandum of Cooperation during his visit to the Singapore Embassy
3. Shichigahama City Nursery School, Miyagi Prefecture. The Singapore Red Cross has earmarked 500 million yen (S$8.3 million) for the construction of a new nursery school in Shichigahama City. The project is currently in the design and planning stage. Construction is expected to start by mid-2012 and will be completed by mid-2013.
The damaged nursery school at Shichigahama City
4. Soma City Community Hall, Fukushima Prefecture. The Singapore Embassy and the Singapore Red Cross are working with Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Fukushima Prefecture and the Soma City municipal office on a 200 million yen (S$3.3 million) initiative to build a new community hall in Soma City. This project is currently in the design and planning stage. Construction is expected to commence in 2012 and the new hall is expected to be opened by the summer of 2013.
Assistance from the Singapore Community in Japan
One of two vehicles purchased through funds raised by Project Merlion
The Singapore community in Japan has also been actively doing its part to help the survivors in the Tohoku region. In May 2011, the Singapore Association in Japan (SAIJ), supported by the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo and the Japan Singapore Association in Tokyo, started discussions with the Iwate Prefecture Government on how Singaporeans in Japan could play a small but constructive role in the recovery efforts. Subsequently, the SAIJ launched Project Merlion, a fund-raising initiative to purchase relief vehicles for the transportation of essential items, relief aid and the elderly. Project Merlion managed to raise a total of 4.17 million yen (about S$70,000), exceeding the original target of 3 million yen. This was made possible by the generous support of Singapore companies including CapitaLand, SIA, GIC, DBS, UOB, Ascendas, APL and SGX, amongst others. The money was handed over to Mr Kiyoshi Murakami, Special Advisor to the Mayor of Rikuzentakata City, on 8 September 2011 during a National Day reception hosted by the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo. The money has since been used to purchase two relief vehicles.
In addition, the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo organised a volunteer relief mission to Miyako City from 15 to 17 July 2011. Travelling more than 10 hours by coach to Iwate Prefecture, a group of 32 Singaporean and Japanese volunteers carried out relief work at Kuwagasaki and Onatsupe districts in Miyako City. Many Singaporeans based in Japan have also travelled to the disaster-stricken areas to perform volunteer work.
A group of Singaporean volunteers at Onatsupe
There are still many opportunities for Singaporeans to show our support. As a close friend of Japan, Singapore will continue to do what we can to assist in the recovery of the Tohoku region.
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