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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Dying alone in temporary housing

February 18, 2016

Solitary deaths rise again in temporary housing for Tohoku disaster victims


Dying alone in temporary housing


Fifty-one survivors of the 2011 triple disaster in the Tohoku region died alone in prefabricated temporary housing last year, continuing the incessant increase in such solitary deaths, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed Feb. 18.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, 190 people have died solitary deaths in those facilities in the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. The death toll includes 16 in 2011, 38 in 2012, 41 in 2013, and 44 in 2014, according to the survey.

Of the total, 84 deaths were in Miyagi Prefecture, 66 in Fukushima Prefecture and 40 in Iwate Prefecture.

The survey was based on interviews with police officials in the three prefectures about evacuees who died alone and whose bodies were later found in prefabricated temporary housing facilities.

An official of a social welfare council in Miyagi Prefecture said more people are dying alone because fewer residents are regularly checking in on their neighbors in temporary housing.

“As contact with neighbors has decreased, it has become difficult for neighbors to watch over them,” the official said.

Of all 190 solitary deaths, 137, or 72.1 percent, were men. Eighty-one solitary deaths, or 42.6 percent of the total, involved people younger than 65 years old, the survey showed.

The death toll included suicides.

The temporary facilities are rent-free. Many evacuees from the disaster have relocated to other places, such as public housing for disaster victims, even though they must pay rent. Moves from temporary housing to public housing started to increase significantly in 2013.

The number of people still living in prefabricated temporary housing facilities halved from the peak to about 59,000 by the end of January this year.

But the number of deaths in these facilities has continued to rise.

“In areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, people immediately started to watch over residents of temporary housing facilities based on lessons from the Great Hanshin Earthquake,” said Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, specially invited professor of urban planning at Ritsumeikan University.

“The activities were effective. But there is a limit,” he said.

In the five years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake devastated the Kobe area in January 1995, 233 people died solitary deaths in prefabricated temporary housing, according to Hyogo prefectural police.

Shiozaki, who was engaged in reconstruction activities after the 1995 earthquake, also said a big problem in the Tohoku region is the loss of contact with those who live alone.

“Nearly five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and people who tend to be isolated from those around them remain in temporary housing facilities,” he said. “In such a situation, the occurrence rate of solitary deaths is rising.

“A system should be established so that people pay attention to each other.”

Solitary deaths could also become a problem in public housing in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

From 2000 to 2015, 897 people died alone in public housing for disaster victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, including those who were not victims of the temblor.


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