Sunday, June 28, 2015

---The current situation of the disaster-stricken areas---The recovery housing, decontamination effort, and some “small” supporters

Today, I would like to talk about the requirements needed to move into recovery housing and the current status of Okuma town and Naraha town.
I will also introduce some “little” supporters.

[Requirements to move into recovery houses]
In my blog dated May 25, 2015, I talked about the procedure to move into housing. In addition to this, I will talk a little more in detail about the national government’s required conditions to move into recovery housing. As you can imagine, many evacuees want to know the room layouts and the size of windows, or would like to see the housing units in person before they move in. This would enable them to take time to plan on the furniture, curtains, and lighting, and would
encourage hope and dreams about their new lives. However, the national government doesn’t make this possible and forces the evacuees to follow their rules. The evacuees never see the actual rooms until they receive the house keys. They never even get to choose which house they move into. The evacuees are told to move in wherever the local government assigns them. Even for same-sized houses, the rent varies in ten different amounts, depending on the evacuees’ income. The lowest rent is 8,000 yen per month (US$65), and there are elevator
fees and other surcharges.

I talked to someone who started moving into one of the recovery houses in Okuma town. The recovery houses were completed in May, and those who won the lottery received a notice. The orientation meeting was held on June 9th. The rent notice was sent to each evacuee, and the
house keys were given to those who paid three-months’ rent up front. They were told to move in within twenty days. Unfortunately, some evacuees live on a pension and don't have three-months’ rent on hand. Also, though they have to move within twenty days, some old people
don’t have cars and live far away from the recovery houses, so it is both physically and financially difficult for them to transport their belongings in time. The evacuees are given just twenty days to move into their new houses, even though the houses do not come equipped
with necessary items such as lights, a gas stove, or curtains. This is an inconsiderate way of treating disaster victims.

Usually, when looking for a new house, one discusses with the realtor about rent prices. Also, the decision whether or not to move in is usually made after first touring the inside of the actual house and seeing it with one’s own eyes. But the Fukushima evacuees have to first make the decision whether or not to move in, and only then are they notified how much the rent will be, which is decided depending on their income. I have never heard of something like this before. How could the government force such an ordeal on them?  However, it seems to me that none of the evacuees are in a position where they have the option to oppose the government’s policies.

Nuclear power plants were promoted as part of Japan’s national agenda. After the nuclear accident that occurred in Fukushima in 2011, a vast expanse of land was contaminated with radiation.  Countless innocent and good-natured people were forced to evacuate from the area. Those evacuees say “We didn’t evacuate. We were driven away from our own land, leaving our perfectly good houses behind. We are not even sure where we can settle down to live our lives after four and a half years. We have moved 7 or 8 times so far, and it cost us a lot of money each time. We are separated from close friends and family members, and we are so exhausted.”

[Status of Naraha town]
In Naraha town, before the official declaration of evacuees’ return to home, evacuees were allowed a trial stay in their own homes from April 6, 2015 through July 5, 2015. However, I was told that no one went back and stayed in their homes due to their concern about the radiation level.

One of the people I talked to share the following details: “Some big company built refabricated housing for thousands of workers who worked on radiation decontamination. One site can hold 300 to 500 workers. They built some of those homes. The workers came from all over Japan. Since the neighboring town, Tomioka is too radioactive to live in, they also built the same housing units for Tomioka’s 3,000 workers who are staying in Naraha town as well. There are traffic jams every day because of those workers commuting from Tomioka to Naraha. After an incident involving a woman being chased by one of those workers, residents started a local patrol, but I don’t feel safe even in my own home. They built the pre-fab houses for the decontamination workers so quickly. But for us Naraha evacuees, the recovery houses are still in the planning stage, and construction has not yet started. There are no carpenters available to repair or rebuild the existing houses; there are no building supplies. Building contractors see
financial uncertainty for repairing the disaster victims’ houses, and they are attracted by the higher pay for construction in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. So for the carpenters, the choice is clear. As a result, the evacuees are left without homes or any means
for building one.”

[Support from a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy]
I would like to share this heart-warming story that I encountered recently. I received an email message on my phone about ten days ago. It was from a young Japanese housewife who lives in England. She had learned about the situation of many people in Fukushima, and she
wanted to do something to help them. She was planning to get together with her six-year-old daughter and her four-year-old son to write messages for each evacuee on little packages of sweets. She wanted to know what type of sweets the senior evacuees could eat, and if it was
okay for her to send 10 to 20 sets weighing a total of 2 kg (4 lb). I was delighted to receive such an offer.

Thinking about this mother working with her daughter and son to write messages and draw pictures for the Fukushima evacuees moved me to tears. I couldn’t think of a more precious gift than this. I talked to the leader of our residents’ association right way. He was also very happy to hear about the offer. He knew the Fukushima evacuees would appreciate any small gift, even candy. The letter from this young girl and boy would be such an encouragement for them.

To tell the truth, continually working on this mission to support the Fukushima evacuees wears me out physically and mentally. Whenever I hear about the inhumane way the national government treats the disaster victims as well as the situation in which the evacuees have
been left behind and forgotten, I feel helpless and deeply distressed. But this message from the young mother and her children healed me, and re-energized me. I sent a thank-you message back to them saying “I’ll never give up! Little boy and girl, I will always keep moving forward
as long as I live. Stay in touch!”

I’m not asking for anything grand. Just as the example of this young mother in England shows, a caring heart and a kind act can help save people in despair and give them the power to confront their daily struggles. If you have any children or grandchildren around you, please share this story. Please consider reaching out to the Fukushima evacuees with your support.

[We need more concerned individuals who care]

There are many Fukushima evacuees who are in bad health as a result of their unstable lives. Even a small donation of simple daily

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