On April 15, at 16:25 UTC a magnitude 7.0 (M7.0) earthquake struck southwest Japan, “as the result of strike-slip faulting at shallow depth,” according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded the quake as magnitude 7.1, which it later revised to 7.3.
The quake occurred one day after “a series of foreshocks” in the Kumamoto prefecture. A magnitude-6.2 earthquake struck southwest of Ueki on Thursday, a couple of hours later a magnitude-6.0 quake hit East of Uto.
The Japan Meteorological Agency quickly issued a tsunami warning and advisories for coastal regions.
Nine people were killed as buildings collapsed in Thursday’s quakes. At least 11 were killed by the M7.0 quake, injuring and trapping hundreds more in collapsed buildings. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that more than 1,100 people were injured, and eight were still reported missing. In addition, the prefecture office announced that 44,449 people had been evacuated, most of whom are taking refuge in shelters.
The USGS identifies both estimated fatalities and economic losses in the most severe category, expecting this type of quake to cause “high casualties and extensive damage,” requiring a national or international response. The economic losses are estimated to be as much as 1% of Japan's GDP, which was $4.6 trillion USD in 2014 according to the World Bank, falling within the red alert level of between $10 billion and $100 billion USD.
Prior to this humanitarian crisis, the largest recorded quake to hit Japan was on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 quake struck 231 miles northeast of Tokyo, triggering a massive tsunami that swallowed entire communities in eastern Japan. The disaster killed at least 20,000 people, and caused catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Local Japanese Red Cross chapters have already dispatched eight emergency medical teams to assist the earthquake victims. They have also distributed 5,000 blankets, 500 family emergency kits, 200 sleeping mats and 200 tarpaulins.
“While the earthquake has resulted in tragic loss of life and many injuries, it was small compared to the big disasters that Japan experienced previously. However, for those who are most seriously affected an event like this can be a very traumatic experience, and our emergency teams will be providing psychosocial support to those who need it.”
- Akira Nakata, Japanese Red Cross Society Deputy Director-General for Public Relations
After the Thursday quake, the office the Prime Minister's Office of Japan posted a message from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, assuring the people that the government is cooperating with local authorities to assist the disaster victims. They are “securing adequate food, blankets, and other necessary supplies, providing medical services, and restoring electricity, water, and other infrastructure,” the message says.
“Since the disaster struck, the government has sent more than 3,000 police, fire fighters, Self-Defense Forces personnel, and other personnel to the affected areas. While the search and rescue of residents has been underway, it is a race against time. We will continue to mobilize units to the greatest possible extent and do everything within our power to ensure the safety of the residents.”
- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
The Kumamoto Prefecture has already applied for the Japanese Disaster Relief Act assistance, calling for country-wide donations to assist the victims that have been harmed by the Thursday earthquake. The Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange, coincheck, quickly announced a Kumamoto Japan Earthquake Bitcoin Relief Fund.
Kagayaki Kawabata, coincheck Business Development Lead, told Brave New Coin that donations will be converted to Japanese yen and given to Peace Winds Japan (PWJ), an organization dedicated to providing emergency humanitarian assistance, disaster relief activities, and reconstruction assistance. “We believe speed is very important,” Kawabata explained.
“PWJ was the first reliable organization that started a donation drive for Kumamoto earthquake victims. We wanted to start the donation drive as quickly as possible, so we choose PWJ.”
- Kagayaki Kawabata, coincheck Business Development Lead
PWJ started collecting emergency donations for Kumamoto earthquake victims support activities through its website on Friday, but only accepts donations by credit card, postal transfer, and PayPal. Third party sites have also joined the effort to raise money for the victims through PWJ, including one on Yahoo Japan and one on JapanGiving.
At the time of press, Yahoo Japan has raised ¥1,960,727 from 2,104 donors, while JapanGiving has raised ¥938,400 from 213 donors. Meanwhile, 114 people have donated to coincheck, amounting to ~ 25.34 bitcoins or approximately ¥1,190,300.
“Peace Winds Japan (PWJ) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the support of people in distress, and threatened by conflict, poverty, or other turmoil. With its headquarters in Japan, PWJ is operational in many parts of the world.”
- Peace Winds Japan
How long the campaign on coincheck will run depends on the amount of donations received in the coming months, according to Kawabata.
Bitcoin donations have been on the rise in recent years, and many of the largest charities have embraced bitcoin donations in the past, The Tokyo exchange has been offering bitcoin donation service since March. Customers can support any project or organization by sending bitcoin from a coincheck account, or bitcoin wallet. There are currently eight projects live on their website, including General Foundation CHANG Child Foundation of Asia, Vaccines for the World's Children (JCV), Japan Cancer Society and Malaria No More Japan (MNMJ).
"We are the only organization in Japan that host a bitcoin donation drive platform," Kawabata asserted. Donors can send funds using QR codes displayed on coincheck's website, which are in both Japanese and English. Donations are done anonymously without any personal information such as name or email address. However, coincheck does not issue a receipt for tax exemption purpose.
“Compared to traditional international bank transfer where you have to pay an intermediary fee to a bank, bitcoin donation allows users to transfer donations directly. (Just a few yen of fee for any amount of transfer).”
Bitcoin transactions are both instant and transparent, allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to quickly send value directly to the scene of a disaster, while the blockchain creates a public record automatically. Sadly, not every charity is aware of the benefits of bitcoin donations, so it’s up to businesses like coincheck to step in and facilitate the giving.
Decentralized governance project BitNation is another example of an organization collecting bitcoin donations. The group is trying to ease escalating refugee problems, starting with the Syrian crisis.
In September 2015, a Latin American bitcoin exchange, SurBTC collected bitcoin donations for Chile's Earthquake Victims. While the quake was an 8.3 magnitude quake, both estimated fatalities and economic losses were less severe than the Japanese quakes, according to the USGS.