Living Conditions at Evacuation Centers: Sleeping Crowded Together Not Good for Health

The Noto Peninsula Earthquake has once again highlighted the reality that there has been a delay in improving living conditions at evacuation centers, which are opened when a disaster strikes. The central and local governments need to make improvements so that disaster victims can maintain their physical and mental health.

Due to the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, which occurred on New Year’s Day, there have been 30 “disaster-related deaths,” which are deaths caused by the deterioration of victims’ physical health as a result of living in evacuation centers, rather than due to collapsed buildings or tsunami.

Even though it was difficult to provide immediate assistance as a result of the severity of the roads, many of the affected people were still sleeping on floors — grouped together with strangers — and surviving on onigiri rice balls and instant noodles even one month after the earthquake. Although conditions have improved since then, many people still remain in evacuation centers.

The majority of disaster-related deaths are among the elderly. Many of them died as a result of being infected by the coronavirus or getting influenza while living in groups at evacuation centers or as a result of a chronic illness worsening due to the stress on their physical or mental health.

Japan has been struck by disasters many times in the past, and the harsh conditions at evacuation centers have surfaced as a problem each time. It is heart-wrenching to lose people due to conditions at evacuation centers after they survived the disaster.

Although it is the role of local governments to manage evacuation centers, they are often unable to procure and distribute supplies because their own staff have been affected by the disaster. In addition, there is reportedly a strong belief that some inconvenience is inevitable at the time of a disaster.

In contrast, in Taiwan, where an earthquake measuring upper 6 on the Taiwan seismic intensity scale of 7 occurred in April, partitions were set up in evacuation centers immediately after the quake to protect evacuees’ privacy, and hot meals were provided.

This is believed to be the result of local governments’ efforts to strengthen cooperation with private organizations and businesses based on lessons learned from past earthquakes.

In Italy, which is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in Europe, local governments and volunteer groups have also secured food trucks in addition to restrooms and tents.

While simple comparisons cannot be made due to the differences in scale of disasters and geographical features, it is necessary to create an environment in which disaster-affected people can live with peace of mind during the hard times immediately following a disaster. There must be some things that can be learned from the attitudes of foreign countries and regions where the public and private sectors are working together to protect the health of those affected.

In Japan, some local governments have procured mobile bathroom trucks and food trucks for disaster relief. It is hoped such vehicles will be prepared in various regions, keeping in mind the viewpoint of the affected people.

Business and medical circles have requested that the central government act as a control tower at the time of a disaster and take the initiative in improving living conditions at evacuation centers.

A disaster can occur at any time and any place. It is important to make sure preparations are sufficient during normal times so that support can be provided even immediately after a disaster strikes.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2024)