Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Before the Fourth Winter, Disaster Survivors Choose Suicide

We are about to enter the fourth winter at the Fukushima disaster area. Residents of temporary housing near the dam in Miharu report: "In August after the Obon, it is already cold. We are beginning to need winter blankets, underwear, and masks."

October is around the corner. How cold the steel-framed, temporary construction of relief housing can be.
Let me tell you about the current situation of the disaster survivors of Fukushima.

[Voices of the Disaster Survivors]

In Narahamachi, a 92-year-old female living alone says: "Everybody is saying no, no, no. After losing her husband in April, an 87-year-old friend hanged herself in the nearby mountains.
“Ten TEPCO people came and took everything, including my cupboard, pots, and dishes, and treated them like over-sized garbage. Everything is gone except the clothing that I use. It's painful. It is worse than war. Everything is empty. I wish I could show you. TEPCO executives came and said quietly, ‘Radiation will not disappear. It will take 30, 40 years.’”

But the government has lifted its restrictions on inhabitants’ return to contaminated areas.

Also in Narahamachi, a 53-year-old male living alone says: "There was an 80-year-old grandmother who jumped to her death. She ran and threw herself off a 30-meter cliff. An 80-year-old grandmother! She said, ‘I cannot live in temporary housing.’
“A person in his forties also hanged himself on a doorknob, with a rope. So many suicides.

“Even in the same building, the disaster survivors no longer talk to each other. Everybody has changed. Before, they used to reach out to one another and have tea, but they no longer care about one another. Everybody has become depressed. Locals think of us as trash. They think we disaster survivors are living off the money from the power company. Since we evacuated, real estate prices have gone up. The apartments are gone, and hospitals have become crowded. So I can understand how the locals feel."

In Minamisouma, a 70-year-old male living with his wife says: “I was swept away by the tsunami, but I was 33 kilometers away from the nuclear plant. TEPCO will pay the compensation up to a 30-kilometer radius, but not beyond 30 kilometers. Even though we all live in Minamisouma. They say it has nothing to do with TEPCO. A one-time payment was given for tsunami survivors. The government should consider the survivors beyond the nuclear plant, because our very livelihood is in danger.
"The Prime Minister and other politicians go to the nuclear plant, but nobody comes to our temporary housing. No one. At the time of the accident, no aid workers or volunteers came, because they were afraid of the radiation. The government told them not to go. But the government did not object to us living there. And we really had no relief supplies. That was merciless. Fukushima really had no aid."

 Even now, victims are still in need of food and basic items for daily living.

 "Next time they put us into temporary housing, they should divide us according to villages. Like now, one temporary construction has different people from different villages, which makes it hard to work together. Each village has different festivals. If people are from same village, they know each other's faces, and they will not be lonely. If they are sick, they can support each other. But now, if we want to do that, we are told it's private information. We are told to mind our own business. Even the president of the community cannot do anything. We brought this up to the administration when we moved in, but they did not listen."

The gubernatorial election in Fukushima will be held on October 26th. One disaster survivor said:

"I think the former mayor of Futaba, Mr. Idogawa, said the right thing. He said it was right to be afraid of radiation and to evacuate the residents as far away as possible. However, residents who evacuated outside the Fukushima Prefecture could not receive any government benefits. We suffered because we left the Prefecture; we were unable to receive relief supplies, unable to relocate into the temporary housing as a village. Mr. Idogawa is right that in order to avoid radiation, it's better to evacuate far away. I think so too. But then, why won’t the government really help the Fukushima evacuees?"

In these words one can feel the pain caused by the government's mismanagement of the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Survivors are afraid of radiation exposure. They want to live in a safe area. The desire to flee far away is understandable. However, if they move, they are no longer considered disaster survivors, and will have great difficulty making claims against TEPCO. Moreover, they are having great difficulty finding employment. A lack of empathy toward the disaster survivors is creating intense hardship.

Realistically, the government should come to grips with the many complex issues facing the survivors, but they’ve failed to do so. Instead, they’ve left disaster survivors behind. Survivors don’t know what to do.

I hope that as many people as possible will support the survivors of Fukushima. Please put your heart into this serious matter. The Fukushima survivors are beyond their capacity for suffering. Can we keep ignoring the misfortunes of our fellow Japanese?

One day, we will face our own death, and the settlement of all that we have done in life. If one has done his or her best to serve other people's happiness, he or she will acquire peace and fulfillment. He or she will receive blessings from the heavens, and will be surrounded by happiness and delight. On the other hand, if one ignores other people's misery, he or she will suffer from one's conscience, and will have to ask for atonement. Our lives are a gift that we’ve received from heaven. It is our life’s work to choose how we want to brighten that gift. –*The Power of Living*, 8th Edition

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