I am at Brussels airport with our civil protection team for a last-minute briefing before they take off for Japan. The 14 Europeans in the team are en route to coordinate the European Union’s contribution to the massive relief efforts going on in the areas affected by a triple disaster: one of the strongest recorded earthquakes (so strong that it shifted the Earth’s axis), a powerful tsunami wave, and one of the Century’s most serious industrial accidents.
Japan is coping with overwhelming humanitarian crisis: the count of those who lost their lives is nearing 10,000, and likely to go up; some 12,000 people are reported as missing. Over half a million others need shelter, because they lost their homes or have been evacuated from the zone of radiation.
Few countries are as prepared as Japan for earthquakes and tsunamis – but the scale and complexity of what has happened is so enormous that help from outside is welcome. From us, Europeans, Japan has requested a consolidated support effort (blankets, tents, water generators). This united response would best target the substantial offers of assistance made by EU member states.
It is necessary to bring relief to the victims, but it is even more necessary to demonstrate that the rest of the world deeply cares. This solidarity with the Japanese people is what my team’s mission is primarily about – a mission of compassion, one of the best values we could bring forward in this immensely difficult moment. And Japan is more than deserving: it has been among the kindest nations when others are in need of help. Now it is setting up another incredible example – of calm, civility and discipline at a dire time.
The mood of the European team is high – these are experienced relief workers, tested in fighting disasters at home and abroad. They have their gear, which this time includes Geiger counters and protective suits in case radiation levels go up. They take pride of being EU ambassadors of friendship to the Japanese people, and are keen to make their small contribution to a huge relief effort.
I know the next weeks and months will be tough, but I have no doubt Japan will recover – and will integrate the lessons from this tragedy into resilience for the future. I hope the rest of us will learn with them.