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Publication Date : 12-03-2013
The deaths of 2,601 people in 10 prefectures including Tokyo after the Great East Japan Earthquake have been deemed to be "earthquake-related," with the stress of living as evacuees a primary cause, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey has revealed.
Combined with people who died or remain missing due to the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, the total death toll from the catastrophe exceeds 21,000.
"The soul of my husband may now be somewhat more at ease, as his death has been certified as attributable to the disaster," a 62-year-old woman said in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture.
Speaking in front of a Buddhist altar in her temporary house, she added, "I now feel I can address the task of having my house rebuilt at last."
Her 65-year-old husband was a fisherman when the calamity struck.
After the couple moved into temporary housing in July 2011, her husband shut himself away from society and refused to go out. "Where have our house and fishing boat gone?" he would often ask his wife.
His appetite gradually diminished, and he almost always lay down, to the extent that he developed bedsores. He was later hospitalised and could not get back on his feet. He died of acute pneumonia nine months after the disaster. His death was certified in January this year as being caused by conditions resulting from the disaster.
Prefectural, city, town and village governments have set up panels of lawyers and doctors to screen applications for certification of earthquake-related deaths filed by bereaved families.
After the Jan. 17, 1995, Great Hanshin Earthquake, the deaths of 919 people were certified as being earthquake-related in Hyogo Prefecture. Two-thirds of the 68 people who died due to the Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake in July 2007 were deemed casualties related to the quake. Under the Provision of Disaster Condolence Grant Law enacted in 1973, the government pays 5 million yen in cash to the bereaved family of a person who was the main breadwinner, and 2.5 million yen for the earthquake-related death of other family members.
Fifty-one per cent of the deaths certified as earthquake-related, or 1,339, were among residents from Fukushima Prefecture, according to the Yomiuri survey. The corresponding figures were 850 in Miyagi Prefecture and 361 in Iwate Prefecture. A total of 181 cases are still under review.
A Reconstruction Agency analysis of data from the first year after the disaster indicated that 33 per cent of earthquake-related deaths were due to "fatigue from everyday life in evacuation centres," the largest percentage of the total. Some people whose deaths were deemed earthquake-related "remained in bed because of the severe cold, and were unable to eat or drink".
Another case involved a person who received home care services before the disaster, but this support was discontinued due to lack of caretakers, the agency said.
The second-largest cause of earthquake-related deaths was "fatigue while being transported to evacuation centres," which accounted for 21 per cent. Among them was the death of "a bedridden elderly person who was transported by bus for eight hours," officials said.
Such cases were cited in especially large numbers in Fukushima Prefecture, where many people were forced to move several times because of the nuclear power plant crisis, according to the officials.
At the news conference on his 79th birthday in December, the Emperor made reference to the fact that earthquake-related deaths at that time had exceeded 2,000.
"It is profoundly sad that many people who survived the earthquake and tsunami have died," the Emperor said.
According to analysts, the government should conduct investigations into why "lives that might have been saved" were lost following the disaster.
Shelter guidelines due
Based on lessons learned from the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the Cabinet Office is preparing guidelines on measures to protect the lives of disaster survivors.
The guidelines, which the office hopes to publish before the end of March, cover such subjects as supplies, hygiene and mental health care at evacuation centres.
The Cabinet Office has held meetings to improve the quality of life at shelters since October and considered reform measures as part of preparations for mega earthquakes, including one that could occur directly beneath the Tokyo metropolitan area. A preliminary report compiled by the office in February suggests shelters stockpile food, including rice and milk for people with allergies, as well as disposable diapers for seniors, who account for more than 90 per cent of disaster-related deaths, and babies.
Among those at the meeting was Kazuhiko Amano, who was a prefectural government officer in charge of a shelter in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, where up to 2,500 evacuees were living at one point. At one meeting, he urged that mental health care be provided for evacuees to ensure stable human ties.
At the shelter, some evacuees slept in corridors near toilets, and noroviruses and other infections spread, Amano said. He added that some patients, not wanting to trouble others, sharply reduced the frequency of their toilet visits, aggravating their medical conditions so much that they had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
As the Basic Law on Natural Disasters does not stipulate items to be stocked at shelters, the Reconstruction Agency also compiled a report in August last year recommending the law specify items such as food and blankets.