Rachid Elmerini manages an import-export business in Nagoya where he has lived for the past 15 years with his wife and son. He organized the distribution of food supplies in Iwaki, a city of 350,000 inhabitants located less than 70km from the nuclear plant, a zone which will be evacuated if the radioactivity spreads.
A few days after the disaster, I was watching NHK (Japan’s main public television network), and I came across a call for help from a resident of Iwaki, a small town close to the nuclear plant in Fukushima. He explained that they had nothing left to eat or drink and that people were marooned in their homes. The nearest open grocery store was 125km away, no transport company would go anywhere near it to help and the army was already overloaded. At the time I contemplated leaving Japan, but this account convinced me that I had to do something for the people much less fortunate than myself.
"The truck drivers who work for me refused to come with me."
My friend Khallouf Mohamed, who is also a businessman, and I decided to collect food supplies and transport them to Iwaki. He is the only person I know who agreed to come with me. Even the truck drivers who work for me refused. We left on the evening of the 21st, a rainy day which supposedly reduces the radioactivity in the air, and we went by truck to Iwaki, 660km to the north. Once we arrived, we were met by the army who immediately helped us to unload the vehicles.
The town was completely abandoned, the only people we met were soldiers and firefighters.
"We saw a high-ranking officer cry in distress"
We distributed the supplies to the shelters where the evacuees gathered. In total, we brought 5,000 bottles of water, 12,000 prepared meals, 20,000 masks, 2,400 loaves of bread, 2,000 rations of rice, 2,000 pairs of socks, milk for the children as well as bedding and some clothes. The residents were very moved to see us.
"The army is doing everything it can, but the need is too great"
Afterwards, we tried to go a little further, but the soldiers stopped us because we were approaching the red line where the radioactivity is considered to be dangerous [a safety cordon has been established at the 30km mark]. However, people are still living in the area, particularly older people who refuse to leave their homes. [The evacuation of this zone has been encouraged by the authorities but it is not obligatory.] The people there have practically no access to water and have very little to eat, therefore the soldiers went to bring them our provisions.
"We covered our hair because that part of the body is very susceptible to radiation”
We took very few precautions. We took iodine pills and we protected our hair, because it seems that that part of the body is very susceptible to radiation. Even though it was unofficial, we were the only Arab emergency relief operation who had gone into the nuclear plant zone. We came across Americans, Russians, Koreans, but very few from countries of the south. We are very proud to represent the Muslim world in the field.
For me, this action is a mission of solidarity, love and peace for those in need, not about any particular ideology. I’m simply serving as a volunteer who helps collect and distribute supplies. (You can contact Rachid on firstname.lastname@example.org).