Freezing temperatures and fuel shortages complicate emergency relief operations
People living in the earthquake and tsunami affected areas in northeast Japan are now faced with bitter cold weather, expected to last until the end of the week. Thousands of households have been without electricity since 11 March when the tsunami hit, and concerns remain for those who have not been reached by rescue workers and the half a million people living in evacuation centres. Many do not have protective clothing or blankets, and heating is insufficient.
The snow has further hampered ongoing emergency relief operations that are also dealing with aftershocks, now numbering 290. Fuel shortage (due to the breakdown of six major oil factories) is also limiting delivery capacity of transportation companies. The government is still trying to mobilize 100,000 troops in emergency response, and there are currently 80,000 troops, police, fire service and Japanese coast guard personnel on the ground.
A fourth explosion occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 16 March 2011, forcing the withdrawal of all workers and suspending work due to a rise in radiation levels. Helicopters and cannon trucks have been dumping sea water on the facility to cool it down. Many countries have instructed their nationals to evacuate to the western part of Japan or outside the country.
Humanitarian needs include WASH services for 1.6 million households without water, psychological and physical health services, and food and amenities for over 400,000 people who have evacuated their homes and are living in temporary shelters.
Response efforts include private sector increase of food production and government delivery of 1.5 million meals and 300 water supply vehicles to evacuation centres and severely affected areas. The International Organization for Migration is providing vital information to disaster-affected migrants who do not speak Japanese, the World Food Programme has collaborated with TNT to transport 60,000 blankets to affected areas, and the International Telecommunication Union has dispatched emergency telephone equipment to the region. The government has urged NGOs to wait until search and rescue operations are complete before commencing relief activities.