Caring for Japanese Quake's Youngest Victims

30/4/2011 - The 100 children orphaned by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last month are the disasters' youngest victims in need of care.

In Japan's Northeastern Kesennuma City, about 2,000 people of the pre-earthquake population of 74,000 are now listed as either "dead" or "missing."

The city is about 390 kilometres north of Japan's capital city, Tokyo, in the Miyagi Prefecture. An additional 5,700 people are still seeking shelter in emergency evacuation centres, as their homes have become part of the wreckage the natural disasters left in their wake.

Kesennuma City was visited by Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi , Kuwait's Ambassador to Japan, over the weekend. The ambassador showed his support for the survivors of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and 15-metre high tsunami that devastated the country last month on March 11th.

Many families have lost their homes, but many children have lost more than that.

Eight children in the city were orphaned, losing both parents in the twin disasters. Thankfully, these children have been able to find new homes with extended family members. Another 80 children have lost one parent.

Japanese social workers were dispatched to affected regions in order to assess the situation and needs of orphaned children after the earthquake and tsunami.

"The latest disaster has caused wide-scale damage and we are concerned that a greater number of children have lost their parents," said an official from the country's Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor in March.

Emergency responses are very well underway, and orphaned and vulnerable children need durable, permanent solutions that consider their best interests. At least 100 Japanese children have been confirmed as orphans at present − 68 died in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Most of the orphaned children are living in the Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, although there are some living in Fukushima.

Some of the children without family to care for them will need alternative care. Some will likely be bound for group homes. Making sure that these children grow up with the material support they need, as well as recreation, an education, love and emotional/psychosocial support is vital.

Across the world in Denver, Colorado, today, the Pediatric Academic Societies held its annual meeting, where it discussed the physical and psychological tolls that environmental disasters wreak on children. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan were among the key events under discussion.

"The children and families of the Tohoku area of Japan face enormous challenges, including displacement, physical and psychological trauma, and the threat of radiation exposure," said Joel Forman, a pediatrician with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-host of the meeting's session on Japan. Experts representing both American and Japanese institutes were scheduled to attend.