The Yomiuri ShimbunOne month has passed since torrential rain hit western Japan. Lessons learned from the havoc wreaked by the downpours — so far the deadliest of the Heisei era with as many as 220 people killed — must be utilized for measures against disasters in the future.
The government designated the catastrophe as an “extraordinary disaster,” for which special administrative measures are applied, and of “extreme severity,” for which the rate of the state’s assistance for post-disaster restoration projects has increased, and has worked out support measures worth ¥105.8 billion. The government should extend support promptly to those affected by the disaster to help their efforts to rebuild their daily lives.
The latest havoc wreaked by torrential rain was characterized by a rash of river floods and landslides occurring over a wide area. Rescue operations faced extreme difficulty. With lines of traffic and communications cut off, there were a number of people whose safety became unknown as they were unable to be contacted, and many of those who were listed as missing were believed to have been impacted by the disaster.
During the confusion, the Okayama prefectural government embarked on making public the names of those listed as missing. The confirmation of the safety of missing individuals, which reached as many as 43 at one time, advanced quickly, bringing them down to as few as three within three days following the announcement. As a result, it was possible to have rescuers, including Self-Defense Force personnel, reassigned to post-disaster restoration work and disaster survivors’ support.
It can be said that the publication of names led to the effective use of the limited pool of manpower at the time of the disaster.
Prioritize saving lives
The Hiroshima prefectural government made public the names of two unaccounted-for people whose safety was not confirmed, releasing only their surnames written in katakana. But it did not publicize the names of people who were officially missing. The Ehime prefectural government withheld any such announcement without the consent of families.
When necessary for the protection of people’s lives or physical safety, personal information can be disclosed to third parties without the consent of individuals. Many local governments have established such exceptional provisions in their personal information protection ordinances.
Excessive consideration of personal information must not impede the protection of those affected by a disaster, situations of the highest priority. The central government should take the lead in formulating relevant rules.
Securing the dwellings of disaster survivors needs to be done quickly. The number of damaged houses totaled more than 48,000, with over 3,600 people still displaced.
In the three prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime, construction of more than 700 temporary houses is planned. It is said that in the prefectures, a total of about 48,000 accommodations will also be made available, which prefectural governments will lease from private homeowners to sublet in accordance with the disaster relief law.
Life at evacuation centers during the heat wave will have an adverse impact on disaster survivors both mentally and physically. The situation needs to be resolved swiftly.
Measures to deal with the welfare of children are also needed. Many of the elementary and junior high schools hit by the disaster have not been able to resume classes and are now on summer vacation. It is believed that disasters can throw children’s daily lives out of kilter, thus impacting their health.
Through such efforts as home visits by teachers and dispatches of school counselors, care should be given to children, not only in terms of delays to their studies, but also their mental condition.