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Food scarcity in NE Japan follows tragedy

Food scarcity in NE Japan follows tragedy

The Japanese government and international food aid organizations are working hard to provide relief to the people in Japan’s northeast who were affected by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

The twin natural disasters and crisis at the Fukishima nuclear plants have set off “panic buying” of food, both in areas most directly affected and those further away.  The Japanese government has been trying to rush aid to the northeast to compensate for dwindling supplies.

“The scale of the triple-disaster is enormous. U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Stephanie Bunker told VOA Tuesday she had ‘not seen one [a crisis] quite like this before.’

Even with the humanitarian situation, Japan has not been accepting many offers of help from international aid organizations.  This is partly because of Japan’s ability as a wealthy nation to deal with the crisis, but it is also because many aid organizations already have large affiliates there, such as the Japanese Red Cross.

Still, many needs aren’t being met for the half a million people camped out in nearly 2,500 refugee centers, with those in the most remote centers surviving on just one daily ration of rice and water.  In addition, challenges remain with getting medicine to the elderly and blankets and protective clothing to the disaster victims amid the freezing temperatures of the northeast.

Japan is the world’s largest importer of food, and with damage to its land, infrastructure, as well as its power supply, food imports to Japan may increase in the coming months and put pressure on already increasing global food prices. Right now, Japan is only 39% food self-sufficient, compared to the United States’ 145%, and France’s 127%.  Jake Caldwell of the Center for American Progress argues that as a net food importer, Japan faces long term food security issues and needs to increase it’s food self-sufficiency in order to protect itself from, and help decrease, volatility in global food prices.

A new worry also surfaced on Saturday, where radiation was found in spinach and milk as far as 70 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant on Saturday.  Government officials are stressing that levels are still relatively low, but the findings cause concern about protecting parts of the nation’s food supply.

Posted by Michael Lucivero and Rishi Sidhu.