It has been four years since the Kumamoto Earthquake occurred. It is important to continue efforts to provide long-term support to those affected by the disaster.
The 2016 disaster was the first time in the history of seismological observation in Japan that earthquakes registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale were recorded twice during the same series of seismic activity. Fifty people died in the disaster and there have been 220 disaster-related deaths from chronic illnesses developed during evacuations, among other reasons.
In the town of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, where most of the houses were destroyed or damaged, projects to develop residential land and parks started in November last year. Operations on the JR Hohi Line, part of which is suspended, will be fully resumed in August, while a section of the national highway that remains closed is expected to reopen in October.
After a period of years, it can be said that the recovery is finally beginning to take shape.
The situation has reached a major turning point for disaster victims.
Although 3,000 people still live in temporary housing, many of those affected by the disaster have started to live permanently in rebuilt homes as well as privately rented housing and public housing for disaster victims, so-called reconstruction housing.
However, not everyone who has moved out of temporary housing has been able to rebuild their lives.
According to a survey conducted by municipalities in the prefecture last autumn, involving people who had left temporary housing, 884 households were in need of assistance. It confirmed cases of people who are not receiving medical care or welfare assistance despite experiencing hardship.
This month, it was learned that a woman living alone in a reconstruction housing unit had died alone in her home. More than half of the households in reconstruction housing are elderly. Privately rented homes for evacuees are located across disaster-stricken areas: the risk of those living in such housing becoming isolated is high.
A counselor from a community support center, some of which were set up by municipalities following the earthquake, saved the life of an elderly person who had left temporary housing after noticing something unusual and calling an ambulance during a visit. Such support is essential.
The centers are operated by local social welfare groups and other organizations with government subsidies. However, once temporary housing is gone, subsidies will not be provided in principle. Further consideration should be made to extend the activities of these centers if necessary.
This year, four years after the disaster, Japan is in a battle against the new coronavirus. If an earthquake occurs under such circumstances, it is feared that evacuation centers where many people gather could become places for the infection to spread.
In fact, even with the Kumamoto Earthquake, influenza and norovirus infections have been confirmed at evacuation centers.
Sanitizers should be prepared at evacuation centers, while a place to isolate infected people should be set up. Residents should also bring their own thermometers with them and make sure they take their temperature. It is desirable to consider how to prepare for disasters, including measures against infectious diseases.