Looking Back: Peace Boat Disaster Relief (PBV)

Jul 23, 2020

In times of humanitarian crises and catastrophes, people are in great need of urgent help. That help comes from individual and collective solidarity which goes beyond borders and the reach of governmental agencies.

Peace Boat has carried out emergency relief operations for more than 20 years, delivering emergency assistance and raising funds, as well as coordinating the dispatch of experienced logisticians, interpreters and volunteer teams to disaster-affected areas throughout Japan and globally.

Peace Boat’s first disaster relief efforts took place in 1995, following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Kobe, Japan, when teams of volunteers provided assistance, supporting community access to food, water and other basic supplies as well as humanitarian support.

After Japan was hit on March 11, 2011 with the devastating consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Peace Boat first dispatched its advance team to the afflicted areas on March 17. Soon after, an operation base was established in the city of Ishinomaki, where Peace Boat staff and volunteers slept in tents in sub-zero temperatures, working tirelessly to clean mud and debris, organize hygienic and food supplies, provide hot meals and psychosocial support.

Following this immediate relief work, PBV continued to maintain a presence in Ishinomaki for many years, coordinating many thousands of local and international volunteers who first supported emergency needs and later were engaged in the recovery of the local economy, particularly in fishing and oyster farming. Ishinomaki City became a model case for disaster volunteerism as many stakeholder groups worked together, the government, civil and private sector actors, volunteers, in unique multi-sector cooperation.

As stated by Programme Officer Kobayashi Shingo, who has been a core PBV staff member since its founding: “In 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami occurred, the northeastern Tohoku region of Japan was in need of long-term support. Peace Boat then decided to establish PBV to specialise in disaster relief.” Since its establishment as an independent organisation in mid-2011, PBV has now become an international NGO working to assist disaster-affected people and strengthen the disaster resilience of communities in Japan and around the world.

Many of the volunteers who joined PBV operations are former participants in Peace Boat voyages. Shingo shares further that “during Peace Boat voyages, we visit various parts of the world and through our local partners, learn about various social issues. PBV provides a platform through which people can take action to solve specific social issues that are both complex and intertwined, on the specific theme of disaster relief. We believe that it is important to be able to provide a place for both learning and action.”

Learning is a core focus of the organisation, with key training programmes for disaster volunteers, volunteer leaders, and risk reduction and preparedness. Several international trainings have also been held by PBV onboard Peace Boat voices, in partnership with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. For example, young regional leaders from Central America and Africa have gathered on the ship to explore pressing issues in Disaster Risk Reduction and identify ways in which youth can take a leading role in making communities more resilient.

This partnership was again recognised in 2015, when Peace Boat and PBV were involved as the Organizing Partner of the NGO Major Group for the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR), held in the Japanese city of Sendai.

As well as its work throughout the year in areas throughout Japan affected by regular typhoons, flooding and other crises, Peace Boat has organized and supported emergency relief operations in over 15 disaster-affected countries and regions around the world. These include: Turkey (1999, 2011), Taiwan (1999), Algeria (2003), Sri Lanka (2004), Pakistan (2005), Indonesia (2006), Korea (2007), Chile (2010), Venezuela (2010), Colombia (2010), Guatemala (2012, 2018), USA (2005, 2012, 2013 & 2019), Philippines (2009, 2013/2014), Nepal (2015), Haiti (2016), Cuba (2016), Vanuatu (2015), Mozambique (2019) and Australia (2019/2020).

According to Shingo, “PBV's vision is to create a society where all people can mutually support each other. Including through the impact of the climate crisis, there is a chance that any person, anywhere in the world, can be affected by disasters. This is an insurmountable hardship that can only be overcome by helping each other. We believe this can be achieved by making use of the global network of partnerships that Peace Boat has fostered through carrying out its voyages over the years.”

See here for updates on PBV’s current work to support areas of western Japan recently hit by record torrential rains, causing devastating and widespread flooding and landslides damage, and how you can support those currently struggling to overcome this disaster.

Peace Boat's ship is welcomed by local community members as it calls to the port of Ishinomaki