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“The first thing people need to restart their lives is a home”

Two years on from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, Habitat for Humanity remains committed to helping families rebuild lives and revitalize communities


web-story-photos.jpg(Top) Habitat volunteer Saya Komatsu presents a familiy with items from a ‘home starter kit’. (Bottom) Muneo Oikawa stands in front of his new windows, installed thanks to a grant from Habitat for Humanity.

Bangkok, 8 March 2013 – “The first thing people need to restart their lives is a home”, declares Saya Komatsu, a Habitat for Humanity Japan volunteer that has repeatedly visited the devastated Tohoku region of northern Japan to help affected families. She continues: “I was glad to have the chance to be involved in helping restart lives.”

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 11 March 2011 killed more than 15,000 people and destroyed thousands of Japan’s coastal communities, displacing more than 340,000 people. In the two years since the disaster, Habitat and over 1,500 dedicated volunteers have supported families to rebuild their lives and revive fragmented communities.

Tomoya Kaji, acting director of Habitat for Humanity Japan, said: “The needs of those who survived the disaster are varied and increasing. There is a clear demand for better housing – whether improving temporary shelter environments or repairing damaged houses so families can return home. As a housing specialist, Habitat for Humanity is strategically placed to find suitable housing solutions, and is committed to helping families rebuild their lives and revitalize communities.”

In the weeks and months after the disaster, teams of Habitat volunteers travelled to the affected region and supported families by clearing mud and debris from homes that were still standing. Families whose homes were badly damaged or totally destroyed moved into temporary shelter complexes. Habitat provided ‘home starter kits’ to 4,400 families that had lost everything, containing household goods and items like mattress sets with bedding and electric heating to get through the cold winter months.

In 2012, through its ‘Rebuilding Japan’ program, Habitat for Humanity Japan has repaired more than 115 homes and provided housing consultations to more than 1,150 families so they can begin rehabilitation work in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. In areas across some of the most affected areas in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, Habitat has built five storage units for fisherman so they can start securing income again, built five school bus stop shelters, and built or renovated 14 community centers or other communal facilities. All of these labors have been group activities, involving community members and Habitat volunteers, bringing people together again to revitalize and reestablish community links lacking since the disaster.

Although many affected families have now returned to repaired homes or moved elsewhere, a large number still remain in temporary shelter complexes. Habitat for Humanity has led consultations with residents and undertaken projects to improve living environments in 21 prefabricated shelter communities.

Since the earthquake and tsunami, Muneo Oikawa, 62, and his wife have been living in Konakai Temporary Shelter Complex in Ofunato, along with 26 other families.

“I never thought that someone would come along and help me to repair my house. And not just my house, but the houses of all the Konakai families. Habitat for Humanity Japan volunteers also built a communal storage unit and made bench-like steps at the temporary shelter complex to improve things while we live there. I really enjoyed working alongside Habitat volunteers to build the storage units and I am more than glad to see more smiles on the faces of my Konakai friends”, said Muneo.

To donate or become a ‘Rebuilding Japan’ volunteer, visit