A week after a giant earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, relief workers are turning their focus from search and rescue to helping displaced survivors – and that’s where ShelterBox comes in.
The UK-based charity, which dispatched an international team to Tokyo immediately after the disaster struck, now has about 500 of its emergency aid kits on the ground in Japan, another 400 en route and 5,000 on stand-by. The team is working to distribute the kits in the country’s worst affected areas on the northern coast.
Food and medicine are of course critical after such a disaster, but what’s unique – and sustainable – about ShelterBox is its focus on longer-term shelter and self-sufficiency in the weeks and months that follow.
Each heavy-duty box is packed for a specific emergency, but generally contains:
- Tent designed to hold 10 people and withstand extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall and high winds up to one year; it also includes privacy partitions to divide space as needed
- Thermal blankets and insulated ground sheets
- Water filtration system good for three years, plus water storage containers
- Tool kit with an ax, hammer, saw, shovel, pliers, wire cutter for building latrines, chopping firewood and eventually home repairs
- Steel stove that can burn wood or any other fuel, plus steel pans, cooking and eating utensils, bowls and mugs
- Children’s pack with coloring books and crayons
“These materials are used over and over,” says Tiffany Stephenson of Shelterbox USA, one of the organization’s 18 affiliates.
“Last year, a team returned to Mexico three years after a disaster there and a family was still using the box.”
ShelterBox’s custom tent, by manufactuer Vengo, is redesigned every year for durability, Stephenson adds. “People are living in them every single day; these are not your camping trip tents.”
The stove, which the agency’s website notes can even burn paint, is also crucial in this sense, she points out. “It helps families feed themselves without having to wait for the next handout.”
Such delays can be the difference between life and death.
“It’s extremely cold here and we are hearing reports of people having to sleep in their cars while evacuation centers remain full and overcrowded,” ShelterBox international director Lasse Petersen told NPR. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to help Japan’s people at this extremely testing time.”