Dire straits

Initial assessments of the devastation wrought by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan ten days ago indicate that the task of relief and reconstruction will be daunting. The official death toll has crossed 9,000 but this is sure to rise as around 13,000 people are still listed missing. Entire towns have been reduced to wastelands of mud and rubble. The World Bank has pegged the cost of Japan’s reconstruction at $235 billion. However, the full impact of the multiple disasters is still not known. Scientists are yet to assess the impact of the nuclear radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. There has been some progress in containing the crisis at the plant. However, the fallout of nuclear contamination looms. IAEA officials have admitted that radiation levels in some areas within a 20-km zone around the stricken plant are 1,600 times higher than the norm. More worryingly, radioactivity has been recorded in areas far beyond the Fukushima plant. In fact, milk and vegetables from other parts of the island have been found to be contaminated.

The worst is clearly not over. Doctors are still checking people for radiation exposure. Scientists are pointing out that over the coming weeks, radioactive particles will enter the food chain as plants that have absorbed radiation will be ingested by animals and these in turn will be consumed by humans. The tragedy in Japan has triggered fear across the world. Small amounts of radiation are reported to have wafted across the Pacific Ocean. Fears of contamination have made people reluctant to purchase food items imported from Japan. It is important that the IAEA and other scientific bodies put out correct information for the public so that rumours do not complicate an already dire situation.

Many believe that rich Japan does not need the help of the international community. Indeed, Japan is the world’s third richest country. However, while it might be able to fund its long-term reconstruction, it is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable magnitude. People are in need of uncontaminated food and water, warm blankets and homes and the world must not look away.  Kandahar, one of the most impoverished regions in the world, is a model to emulate as it has donated $50,000 to help the people of Japan.

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