Communities in Japan destroyed by the tsunami are years away from being righted, the Red Cross warned Friday, with many of the displaced stuck in temporary housing for a long time to come.
“What has been achieved in a year is extraordinary,” Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told AFP.
But the country remains a long way from where it needs to be if those affected by the disaster are going to feel that they have their lives back.
“The reconstruction process and revitalising the economy will take years,” he said.
The Red Cross was one of the most active aid organisations in the months after the 9.0 magnitude quake and resulting tsunami battered the northeast coast of Japan on March 11 last year.
Medical teams funded by the body were stationed in evacuation centres and relief packages were distributed to those who had lost their homes in the nation’s worst post-war tragedy.
In recent months, the Red Cross has been providing a package of electrical items — such as a fridge, television and rice cooker — for 125,000 families in temporary homes, Fuller said.
“One of the main issues now is the welfare of people living in temporary homes, particularly the elderly,” he said.
“A lot of (the elderly) are fairly disoriented because they had to move away from the place where they had lived all their lives, they are living among strangers in many places.”
The disaster, which claimed more than 19,000 lives, has left Japan with a mammoth reconstruction task, one that involves rebuilding whole communities from scratch, possibly on higher ground, away from the threat of future tsunamis.
“I think it’s realistic to assume that people will be living in these temporary homes for a good couple of years because the task of reconstruction is so immense,” Fuller said.
The rebuilding task is complicated by what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Fuller said, when reactors went into meltdown and sent toxic radiation into the air and sea, infecting food sources.
Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate from a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone immediately around the plant, while many families with small children moved away from the prefecture completely.
“A lot of mothers are still very concerned or afraid to let their children play outdoors, particularly the young ones,” he said.
(Believers pray for victims of the March 11 massive earthquake and tsunami at a memorial in Natori, Miyagi prefecture on March 8. The Red Cross warned that communities destroyed by the tsunami are years away from being righted. AFP photo)