Commentary / Japan

New airborne disaster response group on target to deliver

Like the projectile of the same name making its way toward a target, a new international disaster response group called ARROWS has been launched. It is aimed at becoming a platform to assist in natural and man-made disasters by providing an airborne rescue capability while cooperating with the medical, private sector and government/military fields.

The official unveiling of the group, whose acronym stands for Airborne Rescue and Relief Operations with Search, took place Dec. 12 in Tokyo. On hand were current and former Cabinet ministers, Diet members, heads of industry, media, nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, and a former U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general-turned-U.S. assistant secretary of defense.

The need for an organization that brings an airborne capability to partner groups has become increasingly acute in recent years as flooding — due to heavy rains and tsunami — and landslides have made local roads impassable, isolating facilities such as hospitals, schools, gymnasiums, community centers and senior citizens homes. Operations from the air allow medical and search and rescue personnel to get to the scene and start helping more people more quickly, with supplies and other assistance following on seamlessly.

ARROWS was created by Peace Winds Japan, one of the world’s leading humanitarian assistance organizations, originally established by Kensuke Onishi, an entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist. ARROWS combines search and rescue teams, including dogs (trained at Peace Wanko, an animal welfare center founded by PWJ to end needless euthanasia of dogs, providing homes for them and training some of them to assist in disasters, therapy and/or educational purposes), medical teams, media, logistics squads and surveillance/inspection units.

ARROWS is designed to work with NPOs and NGOs, the Self-Defense Forces, U.S. military, participating businesses, DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Teams), hospitals, and local governments to maximize the individual functions for the larger good.

No such platform exists today. Even (or especially) the government itself does not have this coordinating capability and wide network of partners.

ARROWS is the brainchild of Onishi, who in addition to PWJ (established in 1996) and Peace Wanko (in 2016), created Civic Force, a domestic platform of hundreds of companies, tens of thousands of professional volunteers, member NPO and NGOs, and local governments, in 2009. Onishi created these organizations in response to serious needs that he discovered by being on the ground and seeing things firsthand.

In addition, in 2012, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Onishi founded the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster (APAD) Management, a six-country partnership that elevates the domestic platform concept of Civic Force to the entire region. Alliance partners include Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Relations are expanding with other countries in the region as well.

In the APAD network, when one of the member countries is struck by a natural disaster, the other five, using their domestic platforms, offer immediate assistance based on the needs and requirements of the affected country. As a nongovernment entity with its own helicopter and airplane capabilities, APAD is able to provide unique capabilities quickly. Unfortunately, this response has already been necessary many times.

APAD, like the other platforms at the domestic level, leverage the skills, networks, information, experience, local knowledge, etc. of the individuals and partner organizations for a multiplier effect. It is less about contributing equally (as the resources of countries or organizations vary), and more about contributing in the best and smartest way they can.

To do what they do, these domestic organizations require donations and other types of financial or material assistance. Fortunately, they are also able to take advantage of the furusato nōzei (hometown tax donation) system in which a certain percentage of taxes residents in Japan (including non-Japanese) would normally pay can be “donated” to a specific cause or purpose.

In this case, for example, if a reader who pays taxes in Japan wishes to donate a portion of their taxes to ARROWS, he or she could do that (and receive a gift in exchange, called henreihin, and the satisfaction of knowing that 98 percent of the donation goes to PWJ) by applying via the website of the town of Jinseki Kogen, Hiroshima Prefecture, where the headquarters is located, at www.furusato-tax.jp/gcf/711 . The best time to give is now, although donations will be accepted until March 31 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. (Questions can be answered by telephone at 0120-775-877 or by e-mail at furusato@peace-winds.org .)

For those who have already experienced disasters or assisted in them, you know the potential that ARROWS will bring to the table. For those who have not fortunately (yet) been affected personally by disasters, consider support for these organizations as a contribution toward enhancing the disaster response capability ahead of time that might be used to help you, your loved ones or your community in the future.

Robert D. Eldridge is the author of “Operation Tomodachi” and “Before Operation Tomodachi” (both published by Reed International) and serves as an adviser to the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management.

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