Support for The Vulnerable in Disasters: Act with Urgency to Prevent Disaster-Related Deaths

The cold in areas affected by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake has become more severe, and a number of disaster victims have suffered health problems. Measures to prevent disaster-related deaths must be expanded as soon as possible.

More than 10,000 people are still living as evacuees in Ishikawa Prefecture. There are concerns that infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and infectious gastroenteritis will spread due to the cold and deteriorating sanitary conditions, leading to an increase in disaster-related deaths. The risk of hypothermia is also high due to the cold.

In the case of the Kumamoto Earthquake, 60% of the confirmed disaster-related deaths in the prefecture occurred within the first month. In the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, too, now is a crucial stage to think seriously about how to prevent disaster-related deaths.

To protect the lives and health of those affected, it will be important to first promote secondary evacuation outside the disaster areas. Even if temporarily, getting people nutritious meals in a warm room and restoring their physical strength will help avoid the worst-case scenario.

The central and local governments have secured secondary evacuation sites for about 30,000 people in and outside Ishikawa Prefecture, and are encouraging people living in evacuation centers in the affected areas to move to these sites. However, only a small percentage of evacuees are reportedly using the system.

It will be difficult for survivors to leave their hometowns if their future after evacuation is uncertain. The central and local governments need to provide a certain road map for rebuilding their lives. It is also important to give consideration to sufferers so that families and neighbors can travel together.

Security patrols should be strengthened to prevent theft while residents are away. It is also necessary to set up a consultation service for problems at evacuation centers. Showing deep consideration for what survivors are facing will help put their minds at ease.

At the same time, it is necessary to improve the living conditions at evacuation centers so that those who remain in the affected areas can stay healthy.

If the elderly cannot brush their teeth due to the suspension of running water, they could easily develop aspiration pneumonia, in which bacteria in the mouth enter the lungs. Dentists have begun instructing people at evacuation centers to wipe their teeth with wet wipes, and such steady efforts are essential.

Of particular concern are the elderly with chronic illnesses or dementia, and those with physical or mental disabilities. In some cases, they are hesitant to go to evacuation centers because they fear they will cause a nuisance to others, so they stay at their own damaged homes. It is hoped that those in need of care will be identified and connected to support.

In the event of a disaster, local governments are supposed to set up “welfare shelters” to care for these people. However, in the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, even designated facilities were damaged by the disaster, so few of these shelters have been set up. Besides the damaged buildings and stopped water supply, efforts have been further complicated by a shortage of workers due to local government staff also being affected by the disaster.

The central government has begun dispatching caregivers and other experts recruited from across the country to the affected areas. Hopefully it will make use of local staff who have experienced disasters in the past as ready-to-work experts.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 19, 2024)