As of the end of January, at least 97 people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 11, 2011, had died unattended in temporary housing units in disaster-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, information obtained from police headquarters in the three prefectures.
Long periods of evacuee life have caused many people to grow isolated or develop physical or mental problems. Local governments and social welfare organizations are taking measures to keep an eye on such people by mobilizing large numbers of staffers or installing sensors in temporary housing units.
There is no precise definition of the Japanese term kodokushi, meaning “solitary death,” and police do not record statistics on such deaths.
The Yomiuri Shimbun therefore asked the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectural police about “cases in which people living alone in temporary housing units were found dead in their units” to compile an estimated number of cases.
By prefecture, 47 people were found dead in such conditions in Miyagi Prefecture, 22 in Iwate Prefecture and 28 in Fukushima Prefecture. Men comprised 71 of these people, more than twice as many as women at 26. Among the people who died, 58 were aged 65 or older, accounting for about 60 percent of all the solitary deaths in temporary housing units.
Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, a professor emeritus at Kobe University who is familiar with issues concerning solitary deaths, said of these findings: “Many elderly men cannot cook, so they became unable to maintain a balanced diet as they did before the disaster, or they develop a habit of turning to alcohol to alleviate psychological pain. As a result, they can easily fall ill.”
In the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, many people died alone and unnoticed in temporary housing units. According to the Hyogo prefectural police, 188 people died unattended in the three years beginning in 1995. Even as Hyogo disaster victims have moved to public disaster reconstruction housing complexes, such cases have continued to occur frequently, with 1,057 people in total having died unattended as of the end of 2013.
In the three prefectures devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake, the number of occupied temporary housing units peaked at 48,628. The figure is nearly identical to the peak of 46,617 temporary housing units occupied in the wake of the 1995 Hanshin earthquake.
Comparing on that simple metric, it is possible to conclude that the number of people having died alone and unnoticed after the 2011 disaster has been kept to less than half that after the 1995 earthquake.
However, the number of unattended deaths after the 2011 earthquake has been growing each year, with 16 in 2011, 38 in 2012 and 41 in 2013. If the roughly 61,000 housing units rented by local governments from the private sector were to be included in the calculations, the number of solitary death cases would likely increase.
In November, a woman in her 80s was found dead in a bathtub at a temporary housing unit in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, where she lived alone. It was found that she died close to a week earlier, due to illness.
The same temporary housing facility houses around 220 households who have taken refuge after evacuating from the Fukushima town of Tomioka near the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
“We thought she had been away visiting her family living nearby,” Nobuo Kawakami, the 70-year-old head of the facility’s residents association, said of the woman.
After the woman’s death, the association has made it a custom to have the 40-odd residents who live alone put up yellow flags near their doors every morning to let their neighbors know that they are well.
“We’ve gotten the consent of residents to use spare keys to enter their rooms if we are unable to contact them for two days,” Kawakami said. “We don’t want to see any more residents die alone.”
In the areas affected by the 2011 disaster, various measures have been taken to prevent people from dying alone.
In Miyagi Prefecture, about 800 people, including those affected by the disaster, have been employed to watch over such elderly people and provide them with assistance. The Iwate Prefectural Council of Social Welfare also has had around 180 people patrolling temporary housing units and informing health workers when they find matters of concern at housing units.
The Sendai city government, meanwhile, has lent mobile phones to disaster-hit residents who live on their own for use in emergencies. It has also equipped the bathroom doors in temporary housing units with sensors to confirm the safety of the residents. The sensors send a signal if they do not detect any movement of the door for more than 12 hours.
However, some residents find these efforts a nuisance. The city social welfare council in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture has halted daily patrols and reduced the number of patrol to once in every three to seven days.
The council checks mailboxes, whether curtains are left open or drawn and other conditions at the housing units of residents who have declined visits by the workers. But Hideo Otsuki, the council’s secretary general, said: “Watching over them from outside the house has its limits. Those affected by the disaster also need to be aware of the risk of dying alone.”
An NHK survey shows that an increasing number of people who evacuated after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have left the temporary housing where their families live.
NHK conducts an annual survey at a temporary housing complex in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture. The 1,100-unit Kaisei housing complex is the largest in the affected areas.
370 people responded to the 3rd survey this year. 33.2 percent said some family members have gone to live elsewhere. That’s a 40 percent increase from the survey taken 2 years ago.
38.4 percent said their families had to split up because the living space was too small. Some others cited worsening family relations and divorce.
Professor Yasuo Yamazaki of Ishinomaki Senshu University, who studies the lives of the evacuees at the Kaisei complex, says younger people are leaving temporary housing because it is inconvenient to commute to work or school.
He says it is important that municipalities and volunteer groups work together to support those elderly people who tend to get left behind.
Plans to build new public apartments for the nuclear refugees in Fukushima Prefecture are stalling because the prefectural government is struggling to attract bids from contractors.
On Jan. 31, Fukushima announced that a project for a 16-unit concrete apartment complex in the city of Aizuwakamatsu in the western part of the prefecture failed to attract bidders. It failed because the eight private contractors who participated didn’t make offers that matched the prefecture’s budget amid surging demand for labor and materials in disaster-hit Tohoku.
It was Fukushima’s second public housing project to attract bids. Last August, an offer for a 20-unit apartment block in the city of Koriyama also failed twice. The prefecture finally found a contractor after raising the initial price twice.
Efforts to acquire land for new apartments are also stalling as negotiations with landowners are taking longer than expected. Of the 3,700 units scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, only 60 percent, or 2,360, were ready to be built, unhindered by land acquisition problems.
Because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that unfolded in March 2011, six towns and villages that had to be evacuated — Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Katsurao and Iitate — plan to build “out-of-town” communities where reinforced public apartments play a central role. The prefecture plans to build 4,890 units to house people from these and 13 other municipalities.
The prefecture has not come up with good ideas to expedite public housing, and the evacuees are facing the very real possibility they could be in temporary lodging for years to come. The fastest project to be completed so far is the 20-unit complex in Koriyama, which won’t start accepting residents until October.
When the evacuees move in, the prefectural government plans to let groups of residents who formed close ties in the shelters occupy neighboring units at the new apartments so those relationships can be preserved.
This is a lesson learned from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, when the shift to permanent public housing severed bonds the evacuees had formed in its aftermath, leaving them socially isolated and leading to a surge in solitary deaths.
MORIOKA – Prospects for housing remain tenuous for many refugees 2½ years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a new poll shows.
Two-thirds of the 213 refugees in temporary housing in Morioka reported there was no chance of rebuilding their homes, city officials said Monday.
Fifty-one percent of the respondents to the poll, conducted in August and September, said they have no land or funds to build new homes. In addition, 15 percent said they have either land or the funds, but not both.
The majority of the respondents were 60 or above. Most are from coastal areas devastated by tsunami. Some are from Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Nearly 38 percent of the respondents said they hope to settle in Morioka. But 25.0 percent want to return to their former residences and 32.1 percent have no specific plan.
“As a pensioner, I have no financial resources to build a new home,” one respondent said in a written response to the poll.
“Unless I find a job, I cannot make any housing plan,” another said.
ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–Frustrations remain high for many of the tens of thousands of displaced victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, who just want a place to call home.
Two and a half years after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, 103,600 survivors of the disaster still live in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Haruko Omi, 88, and her friend Toshie Inoue, 70, moved to their current provisional housing unit in Ishinomaki last year from another temporary unit in the same city.
The two, who live together, found the previous unit, with its two 4.5-mat tatami rooms, too small because the special-care bed for Inoue, who is certified by the government as physically disabled, required a large amount of space.
As a result, Omi was forced to sleep on a futon spread on the floor. The problem is Omi is also certified as an elderly person in need of long-term care and support.
“With my hips and legs getting weaker, it was difficult to even get up from the futon,” Omi said.
They wanted to live in a public housing unit being built specifically for disaster survivors, but the project has moved slower than planned. They were told the apartment would not be ready until 2014 at the earliest.
Omi and Inoue reluctantly moved to the current temporary housing, which is only just slightly bigger than the previous unit. It has one six-mat room and a 4.5-mat room.
Still, the extra space means Omi now has room for a bed of her own. “Now it’s easier to get up,” she said.
In Ishinomaki, about 15,000 disaster survivors still live in temporary housing. Even if they find their unit has become too small due to circumstances that may include caring for the elderly or a newborn child, the most they can hope for is finding another unit not much larger than their current residence.
At present, about 80 households are still waiting for temporary housing units to become available.
Meanwhile, some residents who evacuated to other prefectures after the disaster are returning, and they too find themselves forced to live in provisional housing.
Keiko Fukuda, 34, evacuated to Yamagata, where her relatives live. She returned to Ishinomaki in March with her two children. “I thought I could no longer live in Ishinomaki” after witnessing the tsunami, she said.
But as things began to settle last year, the desire to return to Ishinomaki, her long-time place of residence, started to grow. She also worried about her mother, who had already returned to the neighboring town of Onagawa, in Miyagi Prefecture.
Fukuda moved back only after her eldest daughter, 13, graduated from elementary school.
Now she is living in a unit with two small rooms, meaning her children do not have a room to call their own.
“It’s a pity for a child of that age (not to have their own room),” she said.
With prospects dim for a move into a public housing unit for disaster victims any time soon, Fukuda said, “I cannot alleviate the anxiety that plagues me about my future.”
In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, the school grounds of the municipal Daiichi Junior High School house temporary units for local disaster victims.
After his class ends, second-year student Haruto Saito, 13, with a tennis racket in hand, makes the five-minute walk downhill to temporary athletic grounds set up at the former site of a sake brewery destroyed by the tsunami.
He occasionally wishes he could return to the old school grounds where he now lives with his parents, grandparents and younger sister in provisional housing.
His mother, Hiromi, 39, said, “This is the site where the school used to hold its athletic meets. I hope we could return it to children as soon as possible.”
Their temporary unit consists of a six-mat tatami room, two 4.5-mat tatami rooms and a kitchen; not enough room to secure a sleeping space or a place to study.
The family couldn’t move out even if they wanted to. They are hoping to build a new house on the hill behind the junior high school, but it would take at least 18 months.
Worse, there is no guarantee the Saito family will be able to build a house there, with applicants outnumbering projections on the amount of available land for housing.
Hiromi is worried: “We only want to secure a place to live.”
In Rikuzentakata, about 5,000 residents live in 53 temporary housing complexes. Of those, 10 are located on the grounds of elementary and junior high schools.
According to the city board of education, the decrease in available space where children can exercise and play sports is impacting their physical abilities. The city has a total of 12 elementary and junior high schools.
According to figures released by the National Police Agency on Sept. 10, 15,883 people in 12 prefectures lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and aftershocks, with 2,654 people still missing in six prefectures. A total of 6,146 people were injured in 20 prefectures.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — At least 81 people have died unattended in temporary housing since the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster in the three hardest-hit prefectures in northeastern Japan, a Kyodo News survey found Wednesday.
But the problem of so-called solitary deaths among survivors of the March 11 calamity two and a half years ago could be more widespread, with many having moved into houses rented by municipal offices for disaster victims over a broader area, potentially with their community links severed.
The tally, compiled as of Aug. 31 based on police data, breaks down into 21 solitary deaths in Iwate, 37 in Miyagi and 23 in Fukushima prefectures.
Of the total who died, 47 were over 65, and more than half died of heart and other diseases.
Despite efforts by municipal officials to confirm the safety of evacuees, some people refuse to accept checkup visits or give no response to other offers such as lending them mobile phones, officials said.
“There is no way to prevent solitary deaths but for residents to relate to each other,” said Toru Utsumi, 66, who promotes exchanges between community associations of various temporary housing sites in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
“Those who are able to become self-reliant early lead the way in leaving temporary housing, and some may be feeling irritated or impatient, but it’s important that everyone supports and takes care of each other,” he said.
The government will create a team to support a “temporary town” plan for four Fukushima Prefecture municipalities evacuated because of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown crisis, sources said.
The team will involve officials from the Reconstruction Agency; the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry; the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry; the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry; and the education ministry, the sources said.
The team, which is slated to hold its first meeting this week, will exchange opinions with local people to find what they need under the temporary town plan, the sources said.
The plan is being studied by the towns of Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, all located near the stricken Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s plant.
The temporary towns are expected to have schools, shops as well as administrative functions.
Reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano has said the central government will work out concrete support measures after conducting a survey by this fall to collect local opinions about the temporary town plan.
Taxation and resident registration are among issues that must be finalized because the temporary towns will be created within other municipalities, something that would be unprecedented.
Analysts say the state also needs to provide support to municipalities that may host the temporary towns, such as the cities of Iwaki and Minamisoma, which are located in Fukushima Prefecture.
In addition, central government agencies will likely be asked to join hands in tackling issues such as buying land and securing buildings necessary for the temporary towns.
For the time being, members of the planned central government team will hold working-level discussions with Futaba, Okuma, Namie and Tomioka, and four other municipalities in Fukushima, the sources said.
FUKUSHIMA–The town government of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, which is located entirely within the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, plans to create three “temporary Tomiokas” for evacuated residents, it has been learned.
The plan aims at preserving the town residents’ communities, which were dispersed after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the plant. According to a draft of the plan, the three locations will be in the cities of Iwaki and Koriyama in the prefecture, and a part of Tomioka where radiation is low.
Town government officials revealed the plan on Friday at a town committee meeting to discuss reconstruction plan.
However, it is expected to be difficult to realize the project, as consultations with relevant municipalities have not progressed.
According to the plan, the Tomioka town government will first set up its headquarters in the town. It will then prepare for the future return of its residents by conducting decontamination work, readying water supply and sewage systems, and encouraging the relocation of residences in areas hit by the March 2011 tsunami to higher ground.
For residents unable to return to the town in the near future, the town government will encourage them to live in temporary “satellite Tomiokas” in Iwaki and Koriyama.
The town government will ask residents to move back to Tomioka when they are ready to return.
The town’s population as of the end of March was 14,608, including about 4,000 in Koriyama, where the town government is temporarily located, and about 5,000 in Iwaki.
In Tomioka’s planned temporary sites in Iwaki and Koriyama, the town government intends to set up public housing, hospitals, schools and nursing homes for its evacuees.
According to the plan, the town government will name one site after sakura (cherry), the town’s tree; one after tsutsuji (azalea), the town’s flower; and one after sekirei (wagtail), the town’s bird.
The original Tomioka is thus expected to be called Sakura Tomioka, while its temporary locations will be Tsutsuji Tomioka in Iwaki, and Sekirei Tomioka in Koriyama.
Meanwhile, the central government is expected to reclassify the town into three zones.
Zones where accumulated radiation exposure exceeds 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones where residency is prohibited for an extended period.”
Zones with annual exposure from 20 to less than 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones with restricted residency,” where residents will be permitted to make brief visits to their houses while being urged to remain evacuated.
Zones where radiation exposure is below 20 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return.”
Sakura Tomioka will be created by selecting areas with low radiation from the “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return,” with a decontamination target of 1 millisievert or less per year.
In the areas, the town government plans to prepare collective housing and other facilities.
However, an area where the town office was previously located is not likely to be included in Sakura Tomioka because radiation there is still relatively high.
In the two satellite towns in Koriyama and Iwaki, the town government plans to ask its residents to move from temporary housing units or privately rented houses to shared or individual houses.
The town government will consider establishing medical facilities and water supply and sewage systems independently, to avoid overburdening the Koriyama and Iwaki city governments. It also will conduct a survey to determine its residents’ intentions regarding the plan prior to compiling the town’s reconstruction plan in July.
However, the town government has yet to explain details of the plan to the two city governments, a town official said.
“We’d like to consult with the central and prefectural governments as well as the relevant local governments to flesh out the details of the plan,” the official said.
Among local governments that have relocated their offices, the town governments of Okuma and Futaba–both near the crippled power plant–also are considering creating temporary towns in other municipalities.
The town government of Okuma has announced a plan to establish a “temporary Okuma” in Iwaki or municipalities around Iwaki.
The town government of Namie also is planning to prepare communities in the cities of Iwaki and Minami-Soma.
Concerning such moves by municipalities, Iwaki Mayor Takao Watanabe said Thursday: “The city of Iwaki has also suffered serious damage due to the earthquake and tsunami. The housing shortage and strain on medical and nursing services are becoming more severe.
“The central government should create a road map for municipalities of Futaba County [in the prefecture] that indicates a timeline for the residents to return to their original municipalities.
“We don’t know how long we’ll need to support them,” Watanabe added.
A senior Koriyama city official on Friday declined to comment about the Tomioka’s plan.
(Apr. 22, 2012)
Tokyo, April 17 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Tuesday it will allow March 2011 disaster survivors to live in temporary housing for one more year after the initially set occupancy period is over.
The ministry also decided to add water-reheating functions to baths and set up storage facilities for furniture at prefabricated houses in temporary housing compounds.
Currently, the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, mostly in northeastern Japan, are allowed to live in temporary housing for up to two years in principle.
But the ministry thinks it necessary to extend the period because many of the evacuees are unlikely find and settle in new homes any time soon.
A total of 300,000 afflicted people are now living temporarily in some 50,000 prefabricated houses and 70,000 leased private houses, both provided by local municipalities, according to the ministry.
TOKYO (Nikkei)–A growing number of local governments are signing procurement contracts for temporary wooden houses to prepare for such calamities as earthquakes and typhoons.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake a year ago, the sheer number of displaced people resulted in a shortage of prefabricated homes, which are the most common type of temporary housing. So temporary wood-frame houses were built in parts of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures.
- Better than a tent.
Wood-frame homes take about a month to build, a week longer than for prefabs. But they cost around 5.8 million yen per unit, lower than the roughly 6 million yen for typical prefabs.
Last September, a trade organization to promote the supply of wood-frame homes was established. Twenty-seven prefectural governments have already reached emergency procurement contracts with the organization, or are considering doing so. Saitama Prefecture is expected to sign a deal on March 29.