Credit NHK News – Fukushima evacuation zone March 2011
This week marks the fourth anniversary of Japan’s greatest modern natural disaster, and as the following Red Cross summary shows, thousands of (mostly elderly) people are still displaced, and for many life remains far from normal.
First the statement, then I’ll be back with more on the long-term effects of disasters.
Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami – 4 years on. Despite progress in recovery, Red Cross continues to address high levels of vulnerability amongst survivors
Four years have now passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami devastated large areas of Eastern Japan and while much progress has been made in overall recovery, there are serious delays in rebuilding communities, and the Red Cross continues to support thousands of mainly elderly survivors who still live in temporary housing. The tsunami also caused meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant forcing the evacuation of large numbers of people who will not be able to return home in the foreseeable future because of radioactive contamination.
“There has been considerable progress in overall recovery from the devastation,” said Tadateru Konoe, President of the Japanese Red Cross (JRCS) and of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), “however, there have been critical delays in rebuilding communities back and particular attention must be given to the needs of many elderly and other vulnerable people who have been unable to get back on their feet. The Red Cross will continue to support them.”
Clean-up efforts have reduced the levels of radioactivity around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but areas close to the reactor will remain uninhabitable for years to come. With support from the IFRC and national Red Cross & Red Crescent societies around the world, the JRCS continues to provide extensive support to those displaced by the Fukushima meltdown, including health services and psychosocial support. Meanwhile the IFRC is supporting the newly established JRCS Nuclear Disaster Resource Center, which operates a digital library that collects information and experiences related to the nuclear disaster. The center has also drafted an operational manual which will be referred to in developing the IFRC’s guideline for nuclear emergency preparedness.
The Japanese Red Cross has been instrumental in the rebuilding of hospitals, nursery homes, and other vital institutions, and most of these large scale projects are either finished or nearing completion. The rebuilding of permanent homes for the affected population has not progressed as quickly, mainly due to constraints in land acquisition, but several Red Cross supported housing projects for elderly people have been constructed.
Whereas the living conditions of younger generations have by now mostly returned to normal, the situation is more serious for a large number of elderly people who lack a supporting family network and have not yet been able to restore their lives. The Red Cross maintains a focus on providing services to displaced elderly people who need assistance. This includes organizing social activities for residents of both temporary and permanent housing projects.
In addition to the mostly completed large scale construction projects the Japanese Red Cross Society continues to provide medical services, psychosocial support and other assistance to affected people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
Although a relatively rich country, Japan is still rebuilding after the devastation of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident four years later, and the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant will take many more years.
In Haiti, which suffered a horrific 7.0 earthquake in January of 2010, at last report more than 80,000 people still live in makeshift tent cities, often without running water or adequate sanitation (see USA Today Voices: Haiti, still suffering 5 years after earthquake).
Although news headlines, and the public’s interest in disasters tend to wane and move to the next big story relatively quickly, recovery from disasters like these - and others like Hurricane Sandy in New York & New Jersey, tornadoes in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, and typhoons in the Philippines – can often take years.
Underappreciated is the toll these disasters can have on the mental and physical health of those heavily affected, and that those effects can continue for years.
- We’ve looked at the post-disaster (often stress related) effects on human health previously, including a year ago in Tulane University: Post-Katrina Heart Attack Rates – Revisited, where heart attack rates remain elevated by 300% in New Orleans six years after that hurricane struck.
- Also last year, in The Long Term Effects Of A Major Disaster, we looked at the post-tsunami deaths due to stress and displacement that exceeded – at least in one prefecture – those experienced during the initial earthquake and tsunami.
- And in the fall of 2013 - in Sandy 1 Year Later: Coping With The Aftermath - we looked at the lingering psychological effects of New England’s brush with that late season super storm of 2012.
While often hidden from view, the psychological impact of a disaster can be enormous and ongoing.
Three years ago, in Post Disaster Stress & Suicide Rates we looked at the impact of disaster-related PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This has been recognized as such a pressing problem that in 2013 the World Health Organization released a comprehensive Guidelines For Post-Trauma Mental Health Care book on the treatment of PTSD, acute stress, and bereavement:
While the psychological impact of a major disaster cannot be completely mitigated, encouraging individual, family, and business preparedness can go a long ways towards reducing the impact of any disaster.
FEMA, Ready.gov, along with organizations like the American Red Cross (and indeed, this blog), spend a great deal of time trying to convince individuals, families, businesses and communities of the value of preparing for a wide variety of emergencies and disasters.
Basic kit : NWS radio, First Aid Kit, Lanterns, Water & Food & cash
Having a modest supply of food, water, and medicine – and a workable family or business disaster plan – can go a long ways toward reducing both stress and hardship during and after a disaster. The standard advice is that everyone needs to be prepared to deal with a disaster for at least 3 days (meaning having a first aid kit, emergency supplies, and a plan) before help arrives.
Sure . . . they’d like you to be prepared for longer . . . but 72 hours is a reasonable start. I personally advocate having 2 week’s worth of supplies, but then I live in the heart of hurricane country, and have a fondness for eating regularly (see NPM11: Living The Prepared Life).
Although a good disaster plan and emergency kit are imperative to get you through the opening hours, days, or even weeks of a disaster, knowing how to help friends, family, and neighbors deal with the psychological effects of a disaster can be equally important.
A few resources you may wish to revisit:
In Psychological First Aid: The WHO Guide For Field Workers we looked a simple guidebook anyone can use to help others in emotional distress.
The CDC also provides a website which contains a number of resources devoted to coping with disasters.
Trauma and Disaster Mental Health Resources
The effects of a disaster, terrorist attack, or other public health emergency can be long-lasting, and the resulting trauma can reverberate even with those not directly affected by the disaster. This page provides general strategies for promoting mental health and resilience. These strategies were developed by various organizations based on experiences in prior disasters.
For more on disaster preparedness, you may wish to revisit: