Japan: Helping Communities Rebuild Post-Fukushima

On March 11th, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off of the coast of eastern Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami.

Today, on the sixth anniversary of the disaster, we honor the thousands who lost their lives, the emergency personnel that led rescue missions and cared for the injured, and the family members who lost loved ones. 2,500 people are still reported as missing, their bodies have never been found.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami created water surges reaching up to 133 feet high, devastating many towns, prompting mass evacuations and causing nearly 16,000 deaths. During the natural disaster, the tsunami also flooded the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant causing it to break down and begin to leak radioactive material. Over 200,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding areas. In response to the humanitarian crisis, Doctors of the World Japan immediately jumped in to support the health services in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. Our teams provided medical and psychological care in 16 shelters that housed more than 1,100 displaced Japanese from the surrounding communities.

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While the earthquake and its aftershocks were felt across Japan, the areas most devastated by the ensuing tsunami were in the northeast of the country in the prefectures of Iwate, Fukushima, and Miyagi. In some areas, water surges reached towns 6 miles inland. As the earthquake and tsunami struck in the middle of the day while children were at school and parents at work, many families were separated during the chaos. Save The Children estimated that over 100,000 children were displaced by the events and more than 1,500 children lost one or both parents to the disaster.

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Elderly communities were also heavily impacted, with those over the age of 60 representing over 65% of deaths since many were unable to flee to higher ground. In the aftermath of the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear leak many elderly persons died after being abandoned in hospitals, retirement homes and their own houses. As heating and medicine ran out in evacuated areas, many perished as a result of being left alone without adequate food or resources.

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Doctors of the World Japan continues to provide medical care and support local NGO’s in the affected areas. In Minamisoma and Shinchi, two towns in Fukushima prefecture, our psychiatrists and nurses work to strengthen local health services by providing counseling, primary healthcare and advocacy for those affected. After the natural disaster and subsequent Fukushima nuclear leak, thousands were evacuated from their homes – some areas are still under an evacuation order. In the areas where the order has been lifted, only 50% of the pre-disaster populations have returned – many of the returnees are elderly people who had no other choice but to return.

In these isolated communities, cases of elderly mental illness such as dementia have increased rapidly. We now support local communities in building social outreach programs and group activity classes to assist dementia sufferers and those who are experiencing early signs and symptoms of the disease. For the latest information on our projects in Japan and around the world, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for updates.

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