As the crisis deepened over the uncertainty of stabilising Japan's nuclear reactors, the International Co-operative Alliance launched the Japan Disaster Recovery Fund.
Pauline Green, ICA President, said: "We have all followed with growing horror the accounts of the terrible devastation visited on the people of Japan by the earthquake and tsunami last week. At this point it appears that the death toll is in the thousands, with tens of thousands left homeless. Our thoughts instantly run to our co-operative colleagues and we send our heartfelt condolences to them for their losses.
"Numerous co-operatives in Japan, especially in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, have suffered severe damage. The full extent of that damage is still being assessed by our member organisations in Japan.
"In addition to expressing our deepest sympathy and solidarity with all the victims of this disaster, we would ask co-operators throughout the world to show their solidarity. Urgent action is needed today, but assistance will continue to be needed long after the crisis disappears from news headlines, as the rebuilding process will take time and resources."
The ICA said the fund will collect contributions from around the world to help the co-operative movement in Japan rebuild. Added Dame Pauline: "The Co-operative Movement has a long and proud record of helping one another. Japanese co-operatives have always been at the forefront in providing assistance to others in need. We hope that you will now be able to assist our colleagues in Japan who have been so terribly affected by this disaster."
In Japan, many organisations have set up to task forces to ensure members and staff are safe, to offer aid and assistance and to assess damage of offices, stores and distribution centres.
The Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union task force is working with retailers Miyagi Co-op, Iwate Co-op and Co-op Fukushima, which have all suffered store closures due to power shortages or damage from the earthquake and tsunami. The organisation has already distributed emergency goods such as 29,000 bottles (500ml) of tea, 29,000 cup noodles, 27,000 bags of cookies, bread with longer expiry date, some quantities of banana, fruit juice, towels and some blankets and 25,000 pocket heaters.
The Japan Workers' Co-operative Union has also set up a disaster task force, which is focussing on the Tohuka, Sendai, Miyagi and Akita areas. Supplies including sleeping bags, water and food will be distributed to those affected, with many being donated by members.
JF Zengyoren, the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Association, has set up a fisheries task force headed by JFZ's President Hattori Ikuhiro to help with relief efforts. It will be operating in the worst affected areas on the east coast where whole towns have been swept away by the tsunami, according to a spokesman for JFZ. He added: "We have at least two such towns, and they say that the number of people missing is more than 20,000. Already they have confirmed the total number of deaths of 1,600 people. It will continue to increase since most of the people who were buried alive by the fearful tsunami are still under the debris of houses. Further, we do not know how to find those who were drifted away by the tsunami far off to the sea. This is more than a tragedy. I do not know how to express this catastrophe in words."
• To donate directly to the ICA fund through bank transfer or credit card download the pledge form or visit the ICA's website for more details. Alternatively contact your national co-operative association for further guidance.