On the first day of 2024, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) near the northern coast of the Noto Peninsula on the west coast of Honshu, Japan. The Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) reported the earthquake as magnitude 7.6. According to USGS, it is not uncommon for agencies’ measurements to vary due to different sensors and methods. Dozens of aftershocks were also recorded.
The quake caused severe shaking in Nanao, with light shaking in Tokyo. The quake also prompted a tsunami of nearly three feet in Japan. JMA initially issued a major tsunami warning, the first since Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but eventually reduced it to an advisory. Two reactors at the Shika nuclear power plant on the Noto peninsula survived but experienced temporary power outages due to damage. William Frank at MIT described what set this earthquake apart from others, namely that the quake was not due to subduction but rather part of an “earthquake swarm.”
Wajima, a city in Ishikawa Prefecture, was among the areas most affected by the earthquake. Many of the city’s 23,000 residents heeded tsunami evacuation orders and fled. But the city still had most of the total number of casualties. Dramatic images show the devastation in Wajima, where buildings were still smoldering from a fire that the earthquake had sparked.
Seven weeks after the disaster, many survivors remain in limbo, living in evacuation shelters and unsure of their future, including whether the region will fully recover economically and culturally.
(Photo: Japan’s Self-Defense Forces look for survivors after the earthquake, Jan. 3, 2024. Credit: Ministry of Defense via X)
Earthquakes are among the most devastating natural hazards. Japan introduced regulations to protect buildings from earthquakes in 1981 and is renowned for its disaster preparedness. Japan’s investments, mandates and engineering practices adapted to seismic risk have saved lives during past earthquakes. However, many buildings in the affected areas may not have been built to withstand a strong earthquake. For example, many of Wajima’s traditional wooden homes collapsed.
While natural hazards, such as earthquakes, are inevitable, their impact on society is not. Disaster risk results from the interaction between a natural hazard, such as an earthquake, and the physical, economic, environmental or social characteristics that make people and communities exposed and vulnerable. For this reason, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy does not use the term “natural disaster” and instead refers to these events simply as a disaster. How we talk about disasters matters.
- As of Jan. 28, at least 236 people were confirmed dead.
- Eight of the deaths were at evacuation centers, where rescued people reportedly died from injuries and sickness. Those eight deaths are a reminder of the potentially deadly conditions that can exist after the disaster event has passed.
- As of Feb. 21, more than 75,000 buildings were reported damaged in Ishikawa Prefecture.
- According to the Japanese Red Cross, more than 60,614 houses were reported to be damaged. About 12,929 people remained in 521 evacuation centers as of Feb. 20.
- Debris from buildings that collapsed in the earthquake and other disaster waste is estimated at 2.44 million tons.
- According to Japan’s land ministry, at least 296 acres (120 hectares) of land were flooded from a tsunami triggered by the earthquake.
- The earthquake’s intense uplift extended the coastline by up to 820 feet (250 meters), which is greater than the length of two American football fields.
- More than half of the roughly 400 students from all three Wajima city-run junior high schools have temporarily relocated to continue their education as their schools were either damaged or used as evacuation centers.
- According to the government in its monthly economic report for January, the earthquake is likely to have a lasting impact on the economy and requires “full attention.”
Roads, utilities and buildings are examples of critical infrastructure that has been damaged. Many roads have been covered by landslides or suffered damage because of the quake, making it difficult for trucks delivering supplies to reach those in need.
Many homes still did not have running water at the end of January.
All Nippon Airways resumed its flights to and from an airport on the Noto Peninsula on Jan. 27. The ability to more easily fly into disaster-affected areas may help with the recovery efforts.
According to the Japanese Red Cross, more than 60,614 houses were damaged. That scale of damage will likely take years to rebuild and require significant financial resources.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Jan. 8 that more evacuation centers were needed. Kishida also said the government was working to find hotel rooms for evacuees. As of Feb. 16, more than 5,200 evacuees were housed at secondary evacuation sites south of Kanazawa.
Many facilities that have hosted disaster survivors are starting to limit the length of stays in anticipation of an increase in tourism demand as the lodging and hotel sector tries to recover from the quake.
The Ishikawa Prefectural Government announced on Feb. 19 that it plans to establish temporary accommodations at Noto Airport. In addition to the airport, the government plans to set up temporary shelter facilities in six cities and towns.
Ishikawa Governor Hiroshi Hase said in that announcement, “The demand for lodging will increase due to the medium- to long-term dispatch of staffers and the start of fully fledged volunteer activities. It is important to secure and enhance these bases for rapid recovery.”
With damage to critical infrastructure and at least a temporary disruption to supply chains, food assistance will be needed until market systems are restored.
In a BBC report on Jan. 4, Shigeru Sakaguchi, mayor of Wajima, said food and other aid supplies had reached only 2,000 out of 10,000 evacuees from the town.
Ensuring the continuity of health care in disaster-affected areas is a critical need, given the damage to facilities and the challenges with access because of damage to some roads.
Following the earthquake, more than 10 facilities that provide care for older adults have ceased operations, exacerbating the strain on local health care services. There is a shortage of staff in these facilities as resignations increase due to staff managing their own recovery and familial responsibilities.
Housing and non-food items
With significant damage to the earthquake-affected area’s housing stock, disaster survivors reside with friends or family and in shelters. Ensuring survivors have access to safe shelter is critical in the immediate aftermath. The faster people can return home or find other permanent housing options, the more it will help accelerate their full recovery.
Snow and freezing temperatures mean that in addition to safe shelter, disaster survivors need blankets, warm clothes and heaters.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Although Japan is well-known for its dependable disaster relief, some areas need water. Many cities were without water the day after the earthquake. As of Jan. 5, running water had not been fully restored in Anamizu.
The damaged infrastructure may take time to be fully restored, meaning alternative sources of water and sanitation services will be needed.
Residents of Nishiaraya, a village of 1,000 people on the outskirts of Kanazawa, reportedly had to brave the snow to collect drinking water.
Naoto Yamanaka, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter, said many shelters lacked flushable toilets. “Sanitary conditions were poor, as excrement overflowed, and the risk of infectious diseases was a concern. Even though food and water are crucial for survival, some people seemed to have been refraining from eating or drinking so that they do not need to use the toilets too often.”
Mental health and psychosocial support
Survivors of deadly earthquakes are forced to deal with lasting trauma, and the need for mental health and psychosocial support services increases.
According to Mark Lieber, who authored a 2017 study, “In the psychiatric literature, earthquakes have consistently been shown to be associated with mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in the months and years immediately following the disaster.”
As summarized by Evidence Aid, the authors of a 2021 study that looked at post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children and adolescents after earthquakes and floods suggested that rapid screening tests and continuous observation are needed for children and adolescents after disasters and that psychological support should be provided to them, especially girls.
CDP has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises.
(Photo: The 4th Company, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Division conducted a search for a missing person in Otani-cho, Suzu City, Japan. Credit: Ground Self-Defense Force Kanazawa Garrison via X)
Philanthropic and government support
Japan is a wealthy country with the capacity to manage the emergency response and extensive experience responding to earthquake events.
According to an Associated Press report, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida deployed about 4,600 soldiers to provide earthquake survivors with water and food and set up bathing facilities at evacuation centers. Kishida later said the government would provide an additional $1.02 billion (150 billion yen) from the state budget reserves for a relief package for the quake-hit areas.
In an example of one government division helping another, Miyagi Prefecture will support Ishikawa Prefecture with its “Higashi-Matsushima method” used in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Miyagi sent staff with expertise in disaster waste disposal to the disaster-affected area.
Plans are being made for Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to visit the Noto Peninsula, possibly in late March, to meet with people affected by the earthquake.
In a statement released on Jan. 1, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. “stands ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Japanese people.”
On Jan. 5, the U.S. said it was preparing military logistical support and aid for affected regions in Japan. Reportedly, Japan rejected offers for help from other countries, including China, as of Jan. 5. Then, on Jan. 16, the U.S. said it would deploy two helicopters to Ishikawa Prefecture’s disaster-affected areas of Noto Peninsula to help with relief operations.
More ways to help
As with most disasters, disaster experts recommend cash donations, which enable on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.
CDP has also created a list of suggestions for funders to consider related to disaster giving. These include:
- Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed throughout.
- Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not: Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.
- Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible.
- All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
- Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities.