World Humanitarian Day: behind the numbers

Takeshi Komino | August 16, 2016


After the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, a local man showed us the level of destruction in Rikuzentakata. Photo courtesy Takeshi Komino.

By the time that the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck Japan in 2011, I had been an international aid worker for years. I had been part of CWS emergency response efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Thailand already. As a Japanese national, I was always “an expat” in my work. Generally, things had to be translated for me.

When I returned to Japan in 2011, though, I was suddenly “a local.”

When I visited disaster affected sites in Japan’s Tohoku region, I realized that I could now understand a lot more about the situation than I had in my previous work. As people around me sobbed and cried, I understood. I understood the hardship they were going through. I understood the despair they were feeling. I that each person has their own story of survival and recovery. It may seem obvious, but it is something that can only be fully acknowledged within a local context.

CWS relies heavily on the local perspective during humanitarian response. We understand that response is more than getting people the supplies and services that they need. It’s about getting people the supplies and services they need.


This photo is from right after the 2011 earthquake. It is from a nursery school in Ishnomaki where children were cared for. I remember the children coming right up to me and wanting attention, which made me realize how much they wanted care and stability. Photo: courtesy Takeshi Komino

You may not know this, but CWS actually had early program work in Japan. We were founded in the aftermath of World War II. One of the first mega projects that CWS undertook seven decades ago was called Licensed Agencies Relief for Asia; the total response amounted to what would now be more than $3 billion US. What strikes me about LARA, though, isn’t the scope of its work. It’s the principle behind it. LARA’s objective was to promote self-reliance and dignity of Japanese people so that when the country rebuilt, they could do the same for others. The spirit of self-reliance and dignity that LARA focused on 70 years ago still lives on in the work that we at CWS do worldwide.

Our team at CWS Japan was formed in 2011 after the earthquake. Three months ago, I led the CWS and ACT Alliance delegation as the world gathered in Istanbul to reaffirm our commitment to the Agenda for Humanity at the World Humanitarian Summit. The Agenda focuses on how we can collectively reduce humanitarian needs and proactively address human suffering in the world today.

The Summit took place in a time of great need. More people are displaced in the world today than at any time since CWS was founded seven decades ago. The backdrop was Turkey, where millions of Syrian refugees are hosted. With this reality so nearby, 9,000 individuals representing governments and civil society united with the goal of generating political commitment to end conflict in our world.

The Summit was not as successful at generating commitments as it could have been in the moment. However, I join those who look at the Summit like a wedding party. The hard part of the marriage comes later. It comes in the daily struggle for a better world. It comes through meetings, conversations, agreements, commitments and programs.

I have been involved in the World Humanitarian Summit process from its inception to the Summit itself, and one thing this has reminded me of is that the challenges facing our global community are ever more complex. One person or one organization won’t change everything. It’s a gradual process that requires continual commitment in order to solve the unsolved.

As World Humanitarian Day approaches, I have been thinking about how we often explain human misery through numbers. We categorize events based on statistics. The truth, though, is that there is life, family, love, community and passion behind all the numbers. Every number represents a story. The numbers represent love and caring for families.

To me, World Humanitarian Day is a day that reminds me of this fact. My life is as important as any other and vice versa.

Takeshi Komino is the CWS Country Representative, Japan.

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