Friday marked one year since Kumamoto prefecture was struck by earthquakes, including two that registered the highest level of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. It was the first time earthquakes of this intensity were recorded twice in the same region.
It appears that transportation infrastructure has been restored in urban areas and that residents’ daily lives have regained a sense of normalcy. The prefecture’s economy, which was hit hard by the quakes, also is on the upswing. It is important to accelerate the overall trend toward recovery.
However, there has been a conspicuous lag in the rebuilding of people’s homes. Publicly funded demolition of damaged or destroyed homes and buildings in Kumamoto city, the town of Mashiki and other affected areas is scheduled to be completed in March. There is a severe shortage of workers in these areas.
Even now about 45,000 people are living in temporary housing and “minashi kasetsu” — private housing rented by evacuees but paid for by the government.
Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima has announced a plan to extend the period people can stay in temporary housing beyond the two years set in principle by the Disaster Relief Law and other laws. The plan is to have all people in temporary housing move to new homes by April 2020.
Above all, houses need to be constructed so people can get on with rebuilding their lives. We want authorities to steadily promote efforts to eliminate the need for people to remain in temporary housing.
A disaster victim’s mental and physical well-being can be negatively impacted as life as an evacuee drags on. The extremely large number of deaths related to the earthquakes, due to deterioration in pre-existing conditions or other causes, attests to this. The quake-related death toll has reached 170, compared with 50 people killed directly by the earthquakes.
Governments must cooperate
Mental health care centers set up by the Kumamoto prefectural government have received requests for advice about sleeplessness and depression. In some cases, stress and anxiety about the future have resulted in people slipping into depression and alcoholism.
Last month a man in his 60s who had been living alone in a temporary housing complex in Mashiki was found dead due to an illness. He had been dead for several days before he was found. This was the first confirmed “solitary death” in temporary housing in the prefecture.
People dying unattended became an issue of social concern after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. A string of similar cases occurred after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The Kumamoto prefectural government has established “community mutual support centers” in 15 cities, towns and villages. Advisers providing support for people’s daily lives go around checking on evacuees. In particular, keeping a close watch on people in minashi kasetsu, which are dotted around wide areas, is essential.
The prefectural government must work together with volunteer groups and community residents and set up a multilayered system for keeping a friendly eye on evacuees. Efforts to encourage interaction among residents also are vital.
Many victims of the disaster wish to rebuild their homes in the same places where they were before the earthquake but hesitate to do so due to financial difficulty and cumbersome red tape.
This fiscal year, Kumamoto city will start operations dubbed “accompanying support” in which personnel with specialized knowledge provide advice to help navigate the procedures for acquiring property.
The central government and prefectural, city, town and village governments need to work closely together to provide detailed assistance that shows disaster victims the way toward rebuilding their lives.