Two years after Japan’s triple – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, considerable progress has been made to help re-establish normal life for the thousands of families affected by the disaster.
The Japanese Red Cross has played a prominent role in recovery efforts, running a variety of social welfare programmes and construction projects. These include provision of a package of household electrical appliances to 135,000 displaced families to help equip their temporary homes.
Significant investment has been made to rebuild damaged health infrastructure and temporary medical facilities. Five hospitals and medical centers have now been constructed with Red Cross support and over 300 vehicles have been donated to support transportation needs in 200 social welfare institutions.
But after two years, new psychological stresses are emerging amongst some of the 300,000 displaced survivors, particularly children and elderly people.
“What we are seeing is a scissor split, with most of the children getting better, but a small number of more serious cases emerging,” says child psychiatrist Dr Junko Yagi, who is based in one of the worst affected prefectures, Iwate. She estimates that while some 80 per cent of her caseload is improving, some 20 per cent are getting worse.
Stress of moving forward
“Some patients are only now starting to develop dissociation and depression symptoms. They seem to be actively moving forward with their lives but in reality, they are in a state of hyper-arousal. They are tired and exhausted.”
Dr Yagi is one of the key figures involved in setting up a centre for children’s mental health care in the Iwate Medical University in Morioka, which will be financially supported by the Japanese Red Cross.
Not just children
But children are not the only ones experiencing the psychological impact of prolonged displacement. While businesses and institutions are gradually being re-established, lack of consensus among the various stakeholders and difficulty in finding suitable land are making the reconstruction of permanent housing a slow process. Some people are giving up on it altogether and leaving for other parts of Japan where prospects may be better.
“This year we’ve seen signs of depression emerging amongst a number of people living in temporary shelters,” said Takeshi Ino, director of the Red Cross Chapter in Miyagi. “This is because they see others around them starting new lives, finding jobs or moving on from their prefabricated homes. They feel trapped and uneasy about their own future.”