Japan Quake Survivors Struggle with Water Shortage and Cold Weather

A month after a powerful earthquake hit Japan’s west coast, killing more than 230 people and destroying thousands of homes, many survivors are still living in harsh and unsanitary conditions, with no running water and freezing temperatures.


The Impact of the Earthquake

The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture on December 31, 2023, at 9:22 p.m. local time. It was the deadliest quake in Japan since the 2011 Tohoku disaster, which triggered a massive tsunami and a nuclear meltdown.

The quake caused widespread damage and disruption, cutting off power, water, and communication lines, and triggering landslides and fires. More than 44,000 homes were fully or partially destroyed, and more than 40,000 households have no running water, according to the Ishikawa government.

The quake also injured more than 1,500 people and displaced more than 13,000, who are now living in evacuation centers or in their cars. Many of them are elderly, who are more vulnerable to the cold and the risk of infections.

The Challenges of the Survivors

The survivors are facing multiple challenges, such as finding food, water, and medicine, staying warm and healthy, and rebuilding their lives. Some of the difficulties they are experiencing include:

  • Lack of water: The water supply system was severely damaged by the quake, and some areas may not have water restored for another two months. The survivors have to rely on communal water tanks or bottled water, which are often insufficient and inconvenient. They have to ration water for drinking, cooking, washing, and sanitizing, and cope with the lack of hygiene and comfort.
  • Cold weather: The Noto peninsula is known for its harsh winters, with heavy snow and low temperatures. The survivors have to endure the cold without heating, and with limited clothing and blankets. Some of them are sleeping in their cars, which are not insulated or safe. The cold weather also increases the risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory illnesses.
  • Health risks: The survivors are exposed to various health risks, such as infections, injuries, and mental stress. The evacuation centers are crowded and poorly ventilated, and some of them have reported cases of gastroenteritis and influenza. The survivors also have limited access to medical care and supplies, and some of them have chronic conditions that require regular treatment. Moreover, the survivors are suffering from trauma, anxiety, and grief, and need psychological support and counseling.
  • Recovery and reconstruction: The survivors are facing a long and uncertain process of recovery and reconstruction, as they have to deal with the loss of their homes, belongings, and livelihoods. They have to apply for financial aid and insurance, and find temporary or permanent housing. They also have to restore their communities and social networks, and cope with the changes and challenges of their new situations.

The Response and Support

The survivors are receiving various forms of response and support from the government, the military, the civil society, and the international community. Some of the measures and initiatives that have been taken or are being taken include:

  • Emergency relief: The government has declared a state of emergency and mobilized thousands of troops, police, firefighters, and medical personnel to assist the survivors. They have provided food, water, medicine, blankets, and other essentials, and set up evacuation centers and public baths. They have also restored power and communication lines, and cleared roads and debris.
  • Vaccination and testing: The government has started vaccinating the evacuees for influenza, and testing them for COVID-19, to prevent the spread of diseases. The government has also distributed masks, sanitizers, and thermometers, and urged the survivors to follow the health protocols and guidelines.
  • Financial aid and insurance: The government has allocated 10 billion yen (US$87 million) for emergency relief and recovery, and announced that it would provide up to 3 million yen (US$26,000) per household for housing and living expenses. The government has also urged the insurance companies to expedite the claims and payments for the survivors, and waived the fees and taxes for the affected areas.
  • Housing and reconstruction: The government has pledged to build 10,000 temporary housing units for the survivors, and to support the reconstruction of the damaged homes and infrastructure. The government has also announced that it would designate the Noto peninsula as a special zone for recovery and development, and provide subsidies and incentives for the local industries and tourism.
  • Psychological and social support: The government has deployed counselors and social workers to provide psychological and social support for the survivors, and to help them cope with the stress and trauma. The government has also encouraged the survivors to participate in community activities and events, and to maintain their connections and traditions.
  • Donations and volunteers: The civil society and the international community have also shown their solidarity and support for the survivors, by donating money, goods, and services, and by sending volunteers and experts to help with the relief and recovery. Some of the organizations and countries that have contributed include the Red Cross, the UNICEF, the USA, the UK, and China.

The survivors are grateful for the response and support they have received, but they also hope for more and faster action and assistance, as they struggle to survive and rebuild their lives.

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