Japan earthquake and tsunami anniversary: quarter of a million face five years in shelters
Japan has wasted the entire year since a giant earthquake and tsunami destroyed its North East coast, the Japanese Red Cross said, as it emerged that more than a quarter of a million survivors face up to five more years in temporary shelters.
the Telegraph, 8 March, 2012
Ahead of the first anniversary of the disaster this weekend, the Red Cross said the Japanese government had dithered over how to rebuild the affected areas, failing to come to any agreement with local officials.
"Without reaching any agreement on a master plan, it is very difficult even to start a reconstruction process," said Taduteru Konoe, the president of the Japanese chapter of the international aid organisation.
"That should be the very start of everything. So one year has been wasted in that sense because they have not been able to reach any consensus," he added.
In the northern city of Ishinomaki, Satosawa Shizue, 61, and her husband Katsuyoshi, 67, have lived in a 100 sq ft temporary hut since last May.
"We all try to stay lively and bright, but it does affect us, not knowing how long we will be here for. That is the worst thing," she said. "We have formed a committee to manage the temporary shelter ourselves, because if we had waited for the government to do it, we would have waited a long time," she added.
When the earthquake struck, their house was split in two and they lost all of their possessions to the tsunami. "When the quake happened, we knew a tsunami would come, so we grabbed as much food as we could and drove to the hills," she said. Their two sons survived, despite one being washed out to sea, and live nearby, one in a different temporary shelter, the other in a house in the mountains.
There is barely room for four people to stand inside the couple's main room, where clothes hang from a ceiling line and a microwave, rice cooker, toaster oven and kettle jostle for space with a television, all provided by the Red Cross, which has raised £3.1 billion in donations. The hut is comfortable, and warm, but minuscule even in a country used to tiny dwellings.
"We have a lot of mould now and water coming in. You can spend as much as you like on things like televisions, but basically this is just a tent in the woods," she said.
In Ishinomaki, 16,800 people, or roughly ten per cent of the population, are still living in temporary shelters.
Across the tsunami-affected region, the figure is 260,000, according to Japan's Reconstruction agency. Officials now believe it could be at least four more years before they can move into proper housing.
Abe Mikio, one of the managers of the shelter where Mr and Mrs Sawato live, said that survivors are beginning to lose hope as they face years of limbo before being able to rebuild their lives. He estimated it would be five or six years before the people in his compound can return to their homes and at least ten years before Ishinomaki returns to normal.
"I heard there have been a couple of suicides. Some people have struggled with alcoholism. There was a case where one man was going out to work, and returning to his shelter to find his wife drunk. One day he killed her," he said.
Each family in Ishinomaki has received around 2.2 million yen (£17,000), partly from the Red Cross and partly from the government, to tide them over. However, with only around half the number of survivors in Ishinomaki able to find paid work, according to one survey of a temporary shelter, the money is now running out.
Sato Yoshinori, a spokesman for Ishinomaki's government, said the city plans to build new housing for the victims of the tsunami in two new areas, but has failed to purchase all the land necessary from the private owners.
In common with many other areas, Ishinomaki has also failed to clear away the six million tons of debris created by the disaster, half of which is still spread around the edges of the city.
Other Japanese prefectures initially promised to help bury some of the disaster zone's detritus, but have now reneged because of worries it may be contaminated by radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Surrounded by the debris, and living in tiny shelters, it is difficult for the earthquake's victims to move on, Mr Sato conceded. He said the city has not hired any counsellors, however, but is using "more subtle" means to cheer people up and release some of the building tension in the region.
"We are organising public entertainment, and activities, little performances to relax people," he said. "If afterwards, they want to talk a little and open up, then that is good," he said