Since March 24, I have organized a group of online friends to help facilitate the deployment of a Russian military hospital ship in port near my hometown of Vladivostok, Russia. In its initial response to our group, the Japanese Foreign Ministry cited concerns about visas, the need for translators and the damage to Sendai-area ports as a basis for rejecting the idea.
To a casual observer, these issues might not seem like potential spoilers. Surely, translators could, and still can, be found. As for the functionality of the ports, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines has announced that its ocean cruise ship, Fuji Maru, has started visiting the Tohoku region. If the ports are so dysfunctional, why does the Japanese government allow these trips?
By allowing such obstacles to impede the use of foreign hospital ships, the Japanese government has forgone a vital resource in helping manage health care issues. Nearly 300 people are believed to have succumbed to postdisaster-linked factors such as cold temperatures and unsanitary conditions at evacuation sites that aggravated their chronic illnesses. Given that Japan seems to have a recurring problem with devastating earthquakes, this unhappy episode begs the question of how things can be improved for next time, if not this time.
Surely a short-term “disaster visa” could be made available for immediate issuance. Certain medical-related criteria could also be harmonized ahead of time so that officials in Japan could be reassured of the appropriateness of the medical equipment, drugs and personnel to be deployed. A database of available translators should be established so that they can quickly be drawn upon.
The inevitable postcrisis review measuring the government’s public policy and administration responses to this disaster, and how they were handled, will give important lessons. It will also be necessary for the Japanese people as well as the foreign community here to be reassured that international offers of help were not, and will not, be ruled out in the future for indefensible reasons. Otherwise, the damage to Japan’s economy and international reputation will multiply.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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