Japanese mountaineer draws on earthquake survival experience to organise Turkiye aid
Ken Noguchi, who has scaled the highest peaks of all seven continents, was in the Himalayas in 2015 when a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck.
YAMANASHI, Japan: The leader of an aid organisation in Japan is drawing from his own experiences in surviving the 2015 Nepal earthquake as he plans the group's relief efforts in quake-hit Turkiye.
Renowned Japanese mountaineer Ken Noguchi and his charity Peak Aid started a campaign to amass sleeping bags for quake victims, as icy weather continues to bite in the south-eastern regions of Turkiye, where two powerful earthquakes hit early last month.
The 49-year-old said his experiences in Nepal taught him that sleeping bags are crucial for those in disaster zones with sub-zero temperatures.
SURVIVING NEPAL QUAKE
Mr Noguchi, who has scaled the highest peaks of all seven continents, was in the Himalayas when a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu about eight years ago.
Thousands were killed, with more stranded outdoors in the cold.
“Homes were damaged. Aftershocks were causing more damage. People were too scared to go inside. So we slept outside. The temperature was lower than minus 10 degrees,” said Mr Noguchi.
“It was like today’s Türkiye. In the beginning, we were happy to have survived.
“But this (sleeping outdoors) went on for a few weeks. The nights were cold. There were those experiencing a mental breakdown, there were people crying. Some even committed suicide.”
Having survived Nepal, Mr Noguchi sought to aid victims of other natural disasters through his charity.
SLEEPING BAGS DONATION
To help quake victims in Turkiye keep warm, the alpinist reached out to the Japanese public through various media outlets for 1,000 sleeping bags.
The response to the campaign was overwhelming, and his charity received pledges of 5,000 such lightweight, insulated and portable bedding.
Most sleeping bags were new and ordered online by donors, and delivered to the Yamanashi-based aid facility.
Monetary donations also poured in, and volunteers from across the country travelled to the aid centre to lend a hand by sorting and packing them for those who lost their homes more than 8,500km away.
'DISASTERS CAN HAPPEN TO ANY COUNTRY'
Some volunteers said they sympathised with Turkiye and Syria’s situation as Japan frequently experiences natural disasters.
The nation is situated along the Ring of Fire, where several tectonic plates meet and is home to about 10 per cent of the world’s active volcanoes, rendering it vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Others said they want to be part of a world where nations help each other.
“My own country is disaster-prone. If there are those suffering from a similar situation, I want to play a part to help,” said grape farmer Shoko Orii, who travelled from Nagano to help the charity.
Another volunteer, local tour guide Yoshiyuki Suzuki, said: “I won’t be able to do anything alone. I thought I could be of use by helping out in this way so I came.”
With the aid organisation located at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain and an active volcano, Mr Noguchi said he is constantly reminded that natural disasters know no borders.
“Mt Fuji may erupt again at any time. Disasters can happen to any country. We can be victims tomorrow,” he said.
“So if it occurs in Türkiye, Japan will help. If it happens in Japan, Türkiye will help. It’s all about partnership.”
He founded the non-profit organisation in 2002. It was initially formed to clean up tons of trash left behind by those climbing Mt Fuji and the Himalayas.
But since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Mr Noguchi became deeply involved in disaster relief and the charity expanded its work.
Mr Noguchi and his family said they are planning their next aid effort to bring light to those affected by earthquakes by dispatching solar lanterns to those areas.
They are also exploring a possible route to extend help to people in Syria.
At least 1.5 million people in both Turkiye and Syria have been left homeless after the earthquakes and aftershocks toppled buildings and devastated towns in February, and many remain without shelter or sanitation.