College's disaster response varies

by AMELIA ACOSTA and SOUMYA GUPTA | 4/19/11 10:00pm

While members of the Dartmouth community have come together twice in the past two years to respond to major natural disasters the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the Japan earthquake and tsunami last month the College's response to the situation in Japan has been more limited than its response to Haiti's crisis due to logistical challenges, according to Presidential Fellow Molly Bode '09, a coordinator and advisor for both relief efforts.

"The main difference we have seen so far between the situations in Haiti and Japan is that Dartmouth had a connection to an on-the-ground non-governmental organization in Haiti, but we did not have that connection in Japan," Bode said. "In addition, Haiti requested outside assistance whereas Japan did not request outside assistance or medical teams."

By Feb. 2, 2010, less than one month after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, Dartmouth had raised over $200,000 for Partners In Health's efforts to assist Haitians, The Dartmouth previously reported. As of June, the College had raised over $1 million for Haiti relief in the form of donations from the community and the College's donation of over 20 tons of medical supplies.

As of April 12, 2011, one month after the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the Dartmouth Japanese Society has raised about $5,000, Evan Ross '13, the group's treasurer, said in a previous interview with The Dartmouth. Anthropology professor Christopher Ball also collaborated with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen to arrange a benefit craft sale in Hanover the weekend of March 26. The sale raised over $3,000, The Dartmouth previously reported.

As a part of the College's Haiti response, Dartmouth also had "six medical teams on the ground in the first six months" that included medical professionals primarily from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Bode said. Similar personnel resources were not called upon to respond to Japan's disaster, she said.

"We had a federal disaster response team ready to go out of the New England Center for Emergency Preparedness," Bode said. "The team was on stand-by but was never actually called to go to Japan."

The countries' economic disparities may have also influenced the response from the College, Bode said.

"Japan is a very wealthy and resource-rich country, whereas Haiti is the very opposite of that and doesn't have the resources in-country that Japan has," she said. "The contribution we can make in either place is different just because of the economic and historical differences. We have some supplies we could send to Japan but sending supplies right now would just jam up the supply chain."

The safety of Dartmouth personnel is also an important consideration, and Japan's current nuclear crisis makes it "really not possible" to send people to Japan, according to Bode.

Dartmouth student response efforts were complicated by the technical difficulties of coordinating with Japanese organizations, according to Bode.

"I'm very proud of the student efforts, especially in light of the fact that organizations that are currently on the ground aren't providing an outward mechanism for people to assist them," she said. "Initially, none of the NGOs operating in Japan had online donation mechanisms or said where they were actually donating the funds, so it was hard to mount a very strong effort without a directed and transparent way to donate."

Dartmouth for Japan a group created to lead campus fundraising efforts for disaster relief coordinated a number of events on campus, according to Mayuka Kowaguchi '11, a native of Japan who helped organize student relief efforts.

"It's been more of a community effort than just a group [effort]," Kowaguchi said. "I reached out to the heads of Dartmouth Asian Organization and Dartmouth Society for Japan as well as the service heads of Greek houses."

Currently, Dartmouth for Japan's major initiative is an alliance with a rehabilitation project in Hokkaido island's Niseko ski resort, spearheaded by Clifford Bernstein '89.

"Hokkaido is the northernmost island, and so was not really affected by the earthquake," Kowaguchi said. "The idea is that the ski resort has all these empty beds during the slow seasons, because the main season is really winter, so the program will offer beds to the victims away from all the chaos."

Student organizers hope to receive administrative and alumni support similar to that engendered by the Haiti response, but have so far been disappointed, Kowaguchi said.

"We wanted the administration to reach out to the alums and get their support [for this], but the Advancement Office's mission is to get money for Dartmouth, they don't want to solicit funds for Japan," she said. "The alums were involved in donating in kind [to Haiti]. They sent charter planes to fly medical teams to Haiti, and they also provided medical supplies and personnel."

The College has been in touch with the Dartmouth Club of Japan in support of the ski resort initiative, but cannot officially support the program until it is sponsored by a governmental or non-governmental organization, according to Bode. The administration has provided support to those students most affected by the crisis, as well as to those initiating fundraising efforts, according to Nora Yasumura, the advisor to Asian and Asian-American students and to Dartmouth for Japan.

"With the human loss that has happened, it is important at Dartmouth to not just think about this as a problem-solving effort, but also to feel it," Yasumura said.