Also look after those who have left Kumamoto quake disaster housing

The Yomiuri ShimbunWith reconstruction gradually making progress, how should the livelihoods of those affected by the disaster be rebuilt? It is essential for local governments to provide painstaking care.

Three years have passed since a series of major earthquakes occurred in Kumamoto Prefecture. Two quakes registering the highest of seven on the Japanese seismic scale claimed 50 lives. The number of houses destroyed or damaged totaled nearly 200,000.

Economic activities have almost returned to normal. Roads and bridges have been repaired in step with the reconstruction plan, while most local farming households, such as livestock farmers, have resumed their operations. Corporate bankruptcies have been occurring at a slower pace than that posted before the quakes.

In Mashiki in the prefecture, a town seriously damaged by the quakes, land readjustment and the widening of a prefectural road by the prefectural government have begun. While listening to the opinions of local residents, local governments should cope with building a town resilient to disasters.

The issue of temporary housing is also being cleared away. Over the past year, more than 20,000 people have moved out of makeshift housing or those deemed temporary housing — private-run housing leased by local governments.

Yet as many as 16,500 people still live in temporary homes. The prefectural government aims to clear up the issue of temporary homes by April next year, but there is a possibility that some of the evacuees will remain. Efforts should be made to secure permanent housing.

Leading an evacuee’s life for a protracted period inflicts various adverse effects on disaster victims. According to a survey by the prefectural government, nearly half of those households living in temporary homes had some concerns such as in terms of their finances, family affairs or physical or mental condition as of the end of last year. Flexible responses that take into account individual circumstances of disaster victims are called for.

Create communities

Attention should be paid to the issue related to the deemed temporary housing. Of the 28 people who had been affected by the quakes and later died alone, 22 were living in the deemed temporary housing. While these homes offer such merits as enabling quake victims to move into them at a low cost and quickly, they are usually scattered over a broad area, making it difficult for victims to keep in touch with one another.

After the quakes, local governments set up local mutual-support centers with counselors and the like watching over residents of such temporary homes by visiting them and responding to their requests for consultation. Repeating these attempts is important.

Also to become important from now on is the livelihood support for victims after they leave temporary homes. As a mutual-support center is designed to give support to residents of temporary housing, there can be a situation in which necessary support might not be extended to those who have left such housing.

Creating communities for victims in the places they have moved to is the key. In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a private organization holds monthly social gatherings for men affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and living alone. By drawing on these examples, local governments, in cooperation with private organizations, should extend continuous support to those victims who tend to lead a solitary life.

What is worrisome is the decline in people’s awareness of disaster prevention. In a survey that the Kumamoto prefectural government conducted on prefectural residents last fiscal year, those who cited stocks of water, food and the like as their preparations against disasters dropped by 10 percentage points from fiscal 2016 when the prefecture was hit by the quakes.

In Japan, an earthquake-prone archipelago, there is no telling when the country will be hit by a large-scale quake. Comprehensive preparations should be made.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2019)Speech


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