In my work as Commissioner for crisis response, I often face the type of news that we hope never to face. A month ago I had a moment like this. Japan was hit by one of the strongest earthquakes in history; cities and lives were shredded by the tsunami that followed; and as if that was not enough, the nuclear meltdown cast a shadow of unimaginable danger.
Every day in the past four weeks brought a new twist and turn in this tragedy – families learned that they had lost loved ones; millions lived with the daily terror of not knowing whether relatives and friends are alive, whether they can give tap water to their babies, whether the Fukushima nuclear reactors would crumble further, not knowing what other bad news tomorrow would bring. This anxiety was deepened and recovery was slowed by the powerful aftershocks (the latest one came today on a magnitude of 7.1).
Today, thousands of Japanese are still missing and over 150,000 live in evacuation shelters. Yet, the emergency phrase, which I saw during my recent trip to Japan, seems to be drawing to an end, as the affected population adjusts to their new reality, mourning and recovering what they can, returning to work and school, trying to regain the lost normality in their lives.
But while Japan and the world are eager to move on from this tragedy, the month that ends today will remain etched in our minds. It was a month of unspeakable pain, but also of quiet heroism, as the Japanese authorities, humanitarian organisations and volunteers joined forces in a fast and efficient operation to save lives and care for survivors. Thanks to their effort, further human loss was prevented and total chaos was avoided.
The world reacted to Japan’s tragedy with an outpour of prayers and support. The international solidarity was both emotional and practical – and the European Union was a big part of it, with the hundreds of tons of aid we sent and the logistical support we provided during the emergency phase. We made sure that Europe’s aid – your aid – took the form of blankets and beds, meals and water bottles, and brought warmth and comfort to the bereaved, the cold, the homeless in Japan.
Our compassion and aid have a one-word explanation in Japanese – Kizuna, a word that means “the bond of friendship”. This bond moved us to provide whatever assistance Japan requested, and to stand by the Japanese people during every day of the past month. This bond will also give Japan the strenth and hope to emerge from this tragedy more resilient. We, Europeans, have an occasion to be proud for reinforcing this bond when Japan needed it the most. For, after all, we have our own word for Kizuna – Solidarity. It compels us to help those who have faced the worst news of their lives, whether here at home, or accros the world.