Wednesday, December 10, 2014

By March 31, 2016....

The Lower House general election and national review of Supreme Court judges will happen on December 14th; I strongly hope that the results reflect the will of our citizens and will contribute to a better political climate.

Let me tell you what is going on in affected areas. Today, I’d like to raise awareness of affected people who still live in temporary housing units in this cold and soon-to-be much colder weather. Our government has asked them to return to their original homes by March 31, 2016.

[Severe Winter Weather Plagues Poorly-Constructed Temporary Housing]
I have been told that the temporary housing was constructed based on the assumption that the buildings would last two years at most. The building manuals were designed so that even construction companies that didn’t specialize in residential housing could build temporary units. Those built by major residential companies have been reliable, but the rest have been riddled by issues such as drafts coming in, humidity, floors that break easily, etc.

Some of the units are made with real lumber, some are prefabricated, and some have exposed iron frames, as though they were never finished. Some have no windows and no air circulation. Some have windows with no privacy. Thin walls between units mean everyone can hear everything. Thus, life in the temporary housing units is extremely stressful, and living conditions are inadequate. The units are also located in inconvenient places, such as the mountains, or on lower ground where vegetable and rice fields were once found—these former agricultural locations becomes pools of rainwater on rainy days. The humidity in cold weather freezes, and all the surfaces in the units become moldy. Meanwhile, some units get hot as saunas during the summer.

Thus, by chance of which unit they’ve been assigned, some residents are enduring unbearable living conditions. Moreover, their space is extremely limited: a room with four tatami mats—some with two rooms, depending on the number of family members. They’ve lived there for nearly four years. They’ll continue to do so until they find alternative places to live.

Here’s what I’ve heard from those residents:

“Between two of us, we have only two rooms: one with a three-and-a-half tatami mat space and one with a four-and-a-half tatami mat space. Other than that, we have a kitchenette, a toilet, a bathroom. That is it. There is no extra space to fit anything. We have cartons that contain all our stuff that we take in and out constantly. No dressers whatsoever. If we had a dresser, it would take up our sleeping space. This lifestyle affects our mental health. That is why some commit suicide. It is impossible to get used to this. We want to be released from this life. We are suffocated. Please help us! Can you believe it? Two more years like this, TWO MORE YEARS! SIX YEARS of endurance in total! It is impossible!”

It was a painful plea to hear. How can our government abandon people like this? Please help us resolve this issue as soon as possible!

The winter in Tohoku region comes early. Some temporary units experience cold weather right after “Obon” period (mid-August), when it has already snowed and frosted. Some residents cannot go out for shopping due to the weather. Some continuously wipe dripping water from the ceiling, due to the humidity and the frost. Of course, such conditions come hand-in-hand with mold. “We apply a plastic sheet to single-pane windows. We also spread aluminum foil on the floor throughout the winter to prevent heat loss,” said one resident.

Those who cannot go out, such as the elderly, the sick, and those with financial difficulties, always appreciate donations of food, underwear, blankets, and household goods such as toilet paper, detergent, and hand-warmers.  

[Deadline: April 2016]
Our government seems to have decided that affected people must return to their original homes by April 2016. This has accelerated TEPCO’s and the government’s efforts to dispose of affected people’s furniture and other household goods. TEPCO and our government are certainly willing to throw away furniture. However, the residences in areas where radiation is too high to sleep over need much more repair than furniture removal. Having been abandoned for nearly four years, the houses are full of mold, and have been totally ruined by mice, raccoons, bores, monkeys, snakes, and such. It is impossible to live in them. They need to be renovated. When it comes to such repair, however, I have never heard of TEPCO and our government offering any financial support to the residents. Some say “it is under negotiation.”

In the Kodaka and Taruha areas, radiation levels are still very high. I hear that the radiation is still leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I do not understand why our government can unilaterally decide, without paying any attention to residents’ exposure to radiation, that residents have to go back to their homes in two years.
Before anyone can return home, the condition of leaking radiation—its scale and areas of contamination—must be checked. We must publicize safety measures in order to minimize radiation exposure, making sure to do double and triple checks, with a real sense of responsibility for generations to come. This should be done beyond the barrier of political parties. This should be resolved as a crucial, once-in-a-century matter, and afforded every possible budgetary dollar. If we had done this from the beginning, we could have protected the lives of affected people. If we do it now, we can release them from their matchbox-like temporary housing units, and help them return to the way they used to live. We must keep human lives running as normally as possible.

Don’t you think this should have been our government’s first priority? If the recovery budget had been allocated to keep human life running as smoothly and as normally as possible for the victims of Fukushima, citizens would have been pleased. The reality is, however, citizens are enormously upset by the fact that the recovery budget has been used in a way that has nothing to do with protecting their normal life.

According to what I heard from residents, they have been told that they can stay at the temporary housing units until March 31, 2016, due to the target date of their return to their original homes, which is April 2016. I have also heard that some of the units will be demolished. So residents have to decide either to go back to their hometown, or relocate elsewhere. Meanwhile, construction of new “recovery apartments” is not making progress as planned. I assume that the government is planning to build enough of them by 2016 to house the displaced. They certainly should.

Here is the story of one affected family:

This woman is one of seven family members. Her father is sick and needs nursing care. Her husband holds a “radiation monitoring card” and works at the crippled nuclear power plant in order to make ends meet. Their daughter is mentally retarded. And they have three sons. She is in her 40s, with many medical issues, but working so hard to sustain her family. They have been using three temporary housing units in Aizu, where it snows a lot, as they are supporting each other. She told me, “We would like to live in the recovery apartments. There, each unit has three rooms with 5.5 tatami mats, a living room with three tatami mats, one closet, and a Japanese style room with a Japanese style closet space. Although it has no air-conditioning, curtains, cooktops, or ceiling lights, it sounds much better than the current temporary housing units. We can stretch our legs and it will make us feel like [we are] living as a family. For seven of us, one unit is not enough. So we may rent two units.”

She looked very happy as she explained this plan to me. However, I suggested that it might be better to rent a second-hand single family home, even if it was old. “You all can live under one roof and you’ll have more extra space. Before you decide to go with the flow of what the government presents, please carefully think of your family’s future.”

I understand that the affected people, especially those who are still in the temporary housing units, are eager to be released from their current, suffocating living conditions as soon as possible. They have been so constrained that their dream to be released from the current situation propels them to choose to live in “recovery apartments” whose units are tiny and inconvenient. This is one of my major concerns. The design of the recovery apartments should accommodate the needs of their future tenants.

[Please donate!]

It is getting very cold. Blankets, hand warmers, masks, underpants for the elderly, toilet paper, detergents, water, rice, spices, dry foods, canned foods, snacks, tea, fruits, vegetables, and such would be deeply appreciated. We are also accepting cash donations.

For more information please contact Momoko Fukuoka (Japanese language only)
(mobile) 080-5547-8675
Between 10:00~17:30 (please continue to call if the line is busy).

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