Meals that Heal

Hot meals help 13,000 displaced survivors regain lifesaving connections

Photo courtesy of NICCO
Volunteers prepare fresh foods for evacuees Photo courtesy of NICCO

Isolation kills. In Japan, there is even a word for death by loneliness and neglect—kodokushi. Japanese health care experts know that the 300,000 people left homeless by the earthquake and tsunami are at risk—already, some kodokushi deaths have been reported.

After the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Japanese health officials estimated 200 deaths due to kodokushi. Not all effects are immediate: Isolation also increases risk for heart disease, cancer and alcoholism.

Facilitating lifesaving connections

AmeriCares is helping evacuees battle isolation and its accompanying health risks. In Kesennuma City and nearby towns, AmeriCares works with Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO) to deliver hot meals to blocks of temporary houses. With NICCO, AmeriCares brings university students volunteers to serve soup and other hot food to isolated evacuees. 

A nurse and a trained mental health expert also join in, to identify people at risk. The hot meals bring people out of their houses. When just the health workers came, only about 10 people showed up; at an event with hot soup and barbecue, 360 residents attended.

Helping survivors cope with trauma, isolation, and loss is a key part of AmeriCares long-term recovery strategy in Japan.  With our partners, AmeriCares will reach more than 13,000 people with hot meals, screening for stress and community-building events in the next six months.