Tragically, the events of March 11 were not the only recent natural disasters. As many know, the southern United States were hit by a tornado outbreak in late April, with 259 tornadoes being reported on April 27th alone. Alabama, the state which suffered the worst from this storm system, has been reeling from the destruction and deaths, but recently received some aid from an unlikely source.
On Thursday, May 5th, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) delivered $120,000 worth of blankets and tarps to Montgomery, Alabama for use by aid workers in the region. Birmingham NBC affiliate WVTM has the story.
The Consul-General of Japan in Atlanta (which oversees much of the American southeast) was on hand to help deliver the relief goods. According to Consul General Takuji Hanatani, the Japanese “are very much grateful for [America’s] strong support. Not only the U.S. government assistance, but the American people. The businesses, corporations, and individuals that provided assistance, made a donation and simply offered a prayer. We will never forget this friendship.”
JICA is a governmental agency which oversees the official development assistance (ODA) programs of the country. ODA has been at the forefront of Japanese foreign policy for years, but it is a welcome surprise to see the government resuming ODA operations this soon after the triple disaster in Tōhoku. Online current affairs magazine The Diplomat recently posted an editorial on the short-term future of Japan’s foreign assistance programs, noting that:
Indeed, the effect on ODA is already being felt. The cabinet has adopted its first $49 billion supplementary budget to finance reconstruction, but instead of issuing deficit-covering bonds, the government is reallocating funds. As part of this, ODA for FY2011 will be reduced by 10 percent, meaning an about $611 million cut. Yet while this reduction is undoubtedly significant, it’s half the figure that was originally floated, a number that would have slashed Japan’s ODA to $5.37 billion—about what it was in 1982.
Japan is arguably more vulnerable than it has ever been since the dark days of its World War Two defeat, and, given the tremendous costs of recovery from last month’s disaster, it would in many ways be understandable if the country decided to turn inward. But while tempting in the short term, doing so would be a mistake in the long term. Thankfully, so far at least, Japan’s leaders don’t see reconstruction and engagement as a zero-sum game.
Perhaps the best lesson to take away from this story is that the relationship between Japan and the United States is never a one-way street. The unselfish and mutually beneficial ties between the two nations can be seen even as one faces its toughest challenge in decades. We in America thank Japan for its effort to help the people of Alabama, and will continue to work for the benefit of people on both sides of the U.S.-Japan friendship.