Donations for relief efforts after the March 11 quake and tsunami have been running below levels recorded in the wake of last year's earthquake in Haiti, which leveled large swaths of the impoverished Caribbean nation and resulted in many more deaths. In addition, many charities, perhaps chastened by the criticism they received after the chaotic response to the Haiti quake, have been less aggressive in their fundraising appeals this time around.
Still, Japan and the Japanese people are facing significant challenges. Japanese police estimate that the death toll from the quake and tsunami will pass 18,000, while the World Bank reports that it could take five years to rebuild, at a cost of up to $235 billion. A severe shortage of fuel in the affected region also has emerged as a significant, albeit temporary, obstacle to the efforts of relief workers. Initially caused by quake-related damage to six oil refineries around the country, the shortages have been exacerbated by an insufficient number of fuel-transport vehicles, fuel hoarding, and traffic jams along key delivery routes. Japanese officials expect to resolve the situation within the week.
The situation at the Fukushima nuclear complex is less clear. While an official with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the complex is "on the verge of stabilizing," he also acknowledged that two reactors at the complex were too damaged for cooling systems to restart, even after electricity to the complex has been restored. In addition, Japanese nuclear engineers have discovered critically damaged machinery that will take two or three days to repair.
Elsewhere, China, Japan's biggest trading partner, has ordered Japanese food imports to be tested for radiation contamination, and the World Health Organization has said the Japanese government will have to do more to assure its own people about food safety. "Walking outside for a day and eating food repeatedly are two different things," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told the Associated Press. "This is why they're going to have to take some decisions quickly in Japan to shut down and stop food being used completely from zones that they feel might be affected."