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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004

Multilingual broadcasting gives support to all disaster survivors


By ERIKO ARITA and AKEMI NAKAMURA
Staff writers

FM Nagaoka in the quake-hit city of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, began broadcasting earthquake-information programs in different languages Monday, in a growing trend to provide more emergency services for foreign residents.

With the number of foreign residents in Japan on the rise, providing them with essential information in the event of a major disaster like an earthquake is an important task for regional governments.

Regional governments already provide leaflets and Web sites in a number of different languages to help residents, and now local authorities are realizing that radio is another effective tool.

FM Nagaoka said the Nagaoka Municipal Government as well as the foreign community had requested the programs, which are in English, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog for about 2,100 foreign residents in the city.

The Kobe Municipal Government also has an agreement with FM YY to provide emergency broadcasts in languages other than Japanese.

The Kobe-base station was set up by local Japanese and foreign residents a year after the city was devastated by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. In the aftermath of the quake, survivors who did not understand Japanese had trouble getting important information, including the locations of public shelters.

The Kobe broadcaster is now helping FM Nagaoka to produce its multilingual programs.

Junichi Hibino, a FM YY spokesman, said the programs will play a significant role in the lives of non-Japanese residents during disasters.

"In a disaster like an earthquake, many people will be unable to access the Internet, or they may be upset and easily forget about the Web sites and leaflets." Hibino said.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government also plans to set up a center to provide disaster information in different languages in the event of a large earthquake.

The center will provide such information as the extent of damage and available public transportation, said Hirotoshi Kuroda, official in the cultural events promotion section at the metro government.

"Important information (for foreign residents) will change as time passes" in the aftermath of an earthquake, he said.

"Right after an earthquake, they will need information about water, electricity, gas and other basic supplies, and a little while later, they will seek support if they try to return to their home countries, such as information on the reissuing of passports they would have lost in the disaster. The center will be able to provide the information in foreign languages."

The metro government currently has 662 volunteers registered for the center. They will offer assistance in 23 languages to translate information and answer questions, Kuroda said, adding that they can also be sent to evacuation shelters and hospitals.

In addition to information services, Taro Tamura, a board member of the nonprofit organization Center for Multicultural Information and Assistance, said that it is necessary to provide psychological care for foreigners who have not experienced an earthquake or who may feel isolated at shelters.

"People from countries that have had hardly any earthquakes would feel more insecure if they experienced one for the first time in Japan," said Tamura, who visited shelters in Nagaoka last week, noting that some foreigners there appeared isolated from the Japanese evacuees.

Tamura said communities should prepare their emergency disaster assistance plans on the assumption that they will be helping residents from various cultural backgrounds.

"If Japanese and foreign residents communicate with each other in everyday life, the anxiety that foreign survivors have will be reduced," he said.



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