Sunday, June 12, 2011

Japan Earthquake/Tsunami: Another Silent Crisis Looming - Infectious Diseases in Affected Areas in Tohoku (Guest Post)

There is another on-going and little-reported crisis in Japan aside from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant: non-recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and worsening health crisis in Tohoku.

In many cities in towns in the Tohoku region affected by the earthquake and tsunami, the vital services such as water and gas are not yet available. At one shelter, the evacuees have resorted to washing their clothes in the nearby river, as if this were 19th century Japan (Picture from Asahi Shinbun: Minami Sanriku City in Miyagi Prefecture, as only 1% of water service in the city has been restored.)

The Japanese government seems to take advantage of stoic perseverance that has always been the virtue of Tohoku people. Since they don't hear loud complaints, they don't do anything. The Self Defense Force has decreased the number of cleanup crews in the affected areas, even though hardly anything seems to have been cleared.

Most of Japan has entered the rainy season, and the typhoon season is also approaching. There are still nearly 90,000 people living in the official shelters throughout the region. As the politicians fiddle, despair seems to be deepening in Tohoku.

The guest post by Tokyo Brown Tabby highlights, of all things, rotten fish and their health implications for the residents.

And that bit about temporary housing is so stereotypically and bureaucratically Japanese. Did you know that once you get your temporary housing, you can't receive food any more because you are no longer in the official shelter? And once in the temporary house you get to pay your utilities, too, whether you have a job or not. Remember, many of these people do not have a cent (I should say yen) on them, as they didn't have time to take much when they barely escaped from tsunami.

It is very hard to believe this is (or was) the technologically advanced, 3rd largest economy in the world.

(Tokyo Brown Tabby's post follows, with some edit; I also added some links)

Silent Crisis in Tohoku
by Tokyo Brown Tabby

With the rainy and typhoon seasons approaching and temperature rising, there are serious concerns that infectious diseases might spread in the earthquake/tsunami-struck areas.

From what? Rotten fish. When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for fish, the fish started to rot.

Conditions are already bad for the residents and evacuees in Tohoku:

-lots of dust rising from debris and rubble

-awful smell of wet and moldy piles of wooden debris and tatami mats

-awful smell of sludge

And now they have:

-awful smell of rotten fish (mostly from many devastated seafood processing plants) and smell of bird feces feeding on those rotten fish (picture from Jiji News)

-great number of big flies (more than 2cm long, which is roughly more than 3 quarters of an inch long) attracted by the rotten fish; according to one news (link is in Japanese), these flies grow so big and fat feeding on rotten fish that they can't even fly and are being eaten by seagulls

-threat of mosquitoes as summer approaches, as well as rats and cockroaches

They have been spraying insecticides and deodorizers in vain, since huge amount of rotten seafood products are still under piles and piles of rubble. Unless all the debris and rubble, rotten fish and all that are completely removed, there is no stopping the hideous smells and mass breeding of those pests that could transmit diseases.

On June 12, on a night news program called "Mr. Sunday" (Fuji TV), they showed a short video clip of a school baseball team practicing wearing gauze masks. It was a strange sight. Without the masks, many would get sick from the bad smell, the coach said in the video.

In the same news program, I learned that:

-More than 20,000 temporary houses have been built, but only about 45% of them are occupied, because once evacuees move to these temporary houses, all the food supply would be cut off and they would have to pay for utilities even though many of them are still unemployed.

-In one city in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of drunk driving has doubled, since alcoholism has increased due to mental depression

-Number of volunteer workers during the 3 month period since the earthquake occurred is only one third of those in Kobe Earthquake in 1995; the affected areas this time are far wider, and much farther and much harder to travel to from the big cities.

According the Ministry of Defense website, about 69,200 members of Self-Defense Forces are in action as of June 10, which have shrunk from the maximum number of more than 100,000. But it seems that more is needed, more efforts from government are needed, to remove those endless piles of rubble.

Otherwise, having survived the devastating earthquake and tsunami, people in the affected areas in Tohoku might lose their precious lives to infectious diseases which is totally avoidable.

This is another imminent crisis. I hope the world and the international health community will pay attention to this issue.



Anonymous said...

Robbie001 sez:

Yes, I spoke about the problem of "gaman" as it related to workers at the plant a long time ago but this Japanese cultural norm is working against the entire region. Nobody wants to be the nail that needs to be beaten down. There are encouraging signs like the recent underplayed anti-nuclear protest but it has to build and keep momentum. People should start mailing these rotten fish to TEPCO's offices and local officials responsible for the cleanup. If you have a truck nothing says I love you like a ton of rotten fish dumped in a driveway or front stoop. I'd carry some frozen rotten fish into the TEPCO buildings and hide it somewhere. If you could hide it in an air intake it would smell up the whole building when it melted. No, reason why TEPCO can't display some gaman spirit too.

(Gaman = enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity)

I don't like hearing that there is lots of dust rising from debris and rubble. This is a major resuspension hazard for any radionuclide found in the debris. Atmospheric dust is a known radiation transport mechanism a dust mote can give heavy elements enough surface area to be easily moved by light winds.

As for having to pay for necessities after leaving the shelter TEPCO should be totally responsible for every little thing until these people can move back home. Once again this shows just how useless the IAEA preliminary "You're doing a heck of a job" report really is. They claim Japan did an exemplary job of evacuating people but they don't take the evacuees plight into consideration when they make this evaluation. Add to that the fact that Japan ignored the IAEA's broader evacuation recommendations and you have the makings of a whitewash. Nobody is taking about how inadequate the "insurance" response has been. This gives you an idea of how Price-Anderson act (P/A) is going to function (oops sorry, taxpayers get out your wallet). What happens if they needed to evacuate New York city? If you look at a map of the US you'll find a majority of NPP's are near large population centers.

In my mind this is still the strongest argument against nuclear power, they can't get private insurance. No private insurance actuary is going to sign off on a commercial nuclear power plant and it is their job to access risk. Originally P/A was supposed to be a temporary 10-year crutch to give the nuclear industry a chance to prove itself. But it has recently been turned into a wheelchair with a 20-year extension. This is to cover all the old dilapidated overextended reactors that never proved themselves worthy of private insurance. These old plants are coming to the end of their design life cycle. Since it is more likely that there will be a serious accident coming out of all the 20 year license extensions that the NRC is handing out like free candy they made sure the public wouldn't have a chance to wiggle out of their "obligation".

Anonymous said...

I guess this post talks about the earthquake/tsunami disaster areas (i.e. north of Fukushima) instead of Fukushima. So TEPCO shouldn't be blamed for tsunami or payment for necessity in temporary housing. I understand your feeling, though.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I guess this post talks about the earthquake/tsunami disaster areas (i.e. north of Fukushima) instead of Fukushima. So TEPCO shouldn't be blamed for tsunami or payment for necessity in temporary housing. I understand your feeling, though.

Doh! Read the title of the story!

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