In Refugee Shelters, Misery and Uncertainty
OFUNATO, Japan — For the past five days Takiko Kinno has slept on a crowded gymnasium floor, without electricity or running water and living on food rations that in the beginning amounted to one and a half rice balls per day.
But the toughest part, she says, has been the uncertainty about how long she will have to stay here after last week’s tsunami destroyed much of this small port city in northern Japan.
“We are stuck in limbo,” said Ms. Kinno, 69, who shares the gym with 500 other residents, most in their 60s or older. “We don’t know where we will live, how we will live, how long it will take to leave here.”
It is a predicament shared by tens of thousands across northern Japan. In stricken communities like this one, tsunami refugees have gathered in hundreds of schools, hospitals and public gyms that have been converted into makeshift shelters. In Ofunato, with a population of 41,000, there are 61 such shelters housing 8,437 people, according to city officials.
The residents of these shelters often live in desperate and primitive conditions with little more than a roof over their heads. They have endured days of living in the dark and cold, an ordeal made even worse on Wednesday as a winter storm brought heavy snow and below-freezing temperatures to many devastated areas. The privations underscore the difficulties that Japan has faced in responding to the 700,000 refugees created by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, the nation’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. While national news media and opposition politicians have been quick to criticize Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s handling of it, at least some residents said they had low expectations of the central government to begin with.
“The central government has a big debt, no money, so we can’t rely on it,” said Noriko Kikuchi, 71, one of those seeking refuge in Ofunato’s gym.
But some help is finally starting to trickle in, usually in the form of food and water brought by Japan’s military, after many shelters were cut off from the rest of the world in the first days after the disaster. At the gym in Ofunato four portable toilets arrived a day ago to supplement the two over-used restrooms. A cheer went up in the early afternoon when electricity was partly restored, giving the refugees their first electric light since the waves hit.
Those living there say they still face severe shortages. They say have not bathed or changed their clothes in five days — and for Japanese, who look forward to a nightly ritual of immersion in a hot bath, that is particularly distressing. For many, their clothing was all they brought with them as they fled the tsunami, leaving them essentially marooned in the shelters because they had no money to hire a taxi or go shopping. The waves swept away everything else they owned, and in many cases their savings as well, because many older Japanese keep their savings in their dressers, not a bank. Those who have bank accounts could not withdraw money because power problems froze A.T.M. networks.
“I would leave tomorrow if I could,” said Emi Sasaki, 64, a homemaker living at the gym with her daughter and granddaughter. “Access to phones and money would let me at least try to find a place to live.”
Those in the shelters try to maintain the orderly routines of normal Japanese life, seen in the tidy rows of shoes and muddy boots at the doorway to the shelters, where everyone is in socks. But there are also stressful differences: the lack of privacy, the growing odors of hundreds of unwashed bodies and the cries of fear every night during the countless aftershocks that have followed Friday’s earthquake.
They also feel cut off from their families and the outside world, with no phones or newspapers or Internet access. Meanwhile, the closure of highways and lack of goods have slowed government efforts to deliver more supplies.
“We have no idea what will happen to us next,” said Ms. Kikuchi, 71, whose home and small cigarette stand were destroyed by the waves. “I cannot call relatives or friends to ask for help.”
Even those whose homes were spared have found themselves living in a state of privation that this modern and wealthy nation has not known since World War II. Entire areas of northern Japan remain without electricity, water or cellphone service.
Chronic shortages of everything from rice to gasoline have led to empty or closed stores, and lines at filling stations that extend a mile or more. Maki Niinuma, a 30-year-old homemaker, said her biggest anxiety was providing for her children, particularly her seven-month-old son. While the waves spared her home, fuel shortages have made it hard for her to shop because she wants to keep enough gas in her car to drive the baby to an inland hospital if he gets sick.
As a result, she has had to ration baby formula and try to fill the gap with less nutritious substitutes like rice porridge. She also said she had tried to make his disposable diapers last longer by waiting till they filled up before throwing them away.
“If I don’t have enough to eat, I can endure it,” she said. “But I’m worried about my children’s nutrition.” .
Many Japanese have endured the privations with a similar mood of quiet stoicism, and the strong sense of community that still prevails in these northern rural areas. Even the hardest-hit areas have remained orderly and friendly, and crimes like looting are largely unheard of.
This communal spirit is apparent at many shelters, some of which are run by community volunteer groups who donate and cook the food, and even clean the overused toilets. In Ofunato, about a third of the shelters are run by volunteers with the rest administered by the city.
Mamoru Mikami, a city official who oversees the refugee centers, said the government was beginning to take over the volunteer-run shelters as it now appears that it will take weeks or months to build temporary housing for those left homeless.
He said doctors had volunteered to check shelter residents for disease or stress, though the city had a chronic shortage of medicines for common ailments like cold and flu, or medicines like insulin for those with preexisting diseases like diabetes. In the longer term, he said, the bigger challenges would be depression and stress, both from living in the shelters, where people have no privacy as well as no water and electricity, and also from the shock of the destruction that they have witnessed.
Mr. Mikami said some symptoms were already appearing, such as denial, or emotional swings between giddiness and tears.
“It is happening to me, too; I still feel like I’m in a dream,” said Mr. Mikami, who barely survived the tsunami by running uphill. “So many of my co-workers at city hall died.”
Those who do leave the shelters have little choice but to live amid the debris of their smashed homes. Osamu Niinuma, 68, was ejected from one shelter because he insisted on bringing his dog. With many of his friends lost to the tsunami, he said he could not part with the best friend, a beagle named Pan.
Now, he lives with Pan in the shattered shell of his home, wearing four layers of clothes to stay warm at night.
“I didn’t want to stay in the refugee shelter forever anyway,” said Mr. Niinuma, a former teacher. “People need to get out and rebuild their lives.”
Traditional paddies are great ecosystems
Japan's rice-farming areas face two broad trends: field abandonment and farm modernization. Both impact the environment as well as the economy.
|Small is beautiful: Terraced paddies like this in the hills of Mie Prefecture are lovely to look at but a disaster in terms of cost-efficient rice production. Whether they could survive globalization is far from certain.|
"When rice fields disappear, species such as tadpoles and dragonflies that live in them decrease. Paddies also store water and help prevent floods. We need to think more about the multiple functions of farmland," said Nobuhiro Suzuki, an agriculture economist at the University of Tokyo.
But paddies and their elaborate irrigation networks provide a home — or feeding ground — not just for tadpoles and dragonflies, but for thousands of species including salamanders, fish, water bugs, snakes, cranes, egrets and hawks.
Today, the Environment Ministry estimates that half of Japan's endangered plants and animals live in these rapidly changing rural areas. To get a better picture of what happens to the environment when farmers try to grow more rice at lower costs, The Japan Times talked to Shori Yamamoto, who leads the Research Project for Biodiversity in Paddy Landscapes at the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.
How have past attempts to improve efficiency on Japanese rice farms, such as paddy modernization and consolidation projects, affected biodiversity?
Many recent scientific studies show that these projects do affect biodiversity. For example, pesticide, herbicide and chemical fertilizer use have damaged wildlife populations in and out of fields.
Also, structural improvements, such as changing fields from amorphous to square, and from year-round wetlands to summer-only wetlands, have caused many wildlife habitats to disappear.
Other impacts are less universal. For example, squaring-up of paddies sometimes causes soil runoff, but in other cases robustly constructed levees protect paddy areas from floods or soil erosion.
Is there a link between farm size and rice farmers' agro-chemical use?
I don't think so. Agro-chemical use depends on the farmer's motivations. Usually, chemicals are used for commercial production regardless of farm size. But oftentimes farmers don't use chemicals on the rice they grow for their own families. Recently, more farmers are also trying out environmentally friendly methods as a way to meet consumer demand for safe foods and get a higher price for their rice.
Some people argue that smaller farms with high labor input have fewer negative impacts on biodiversity. But others say that by using low- or no-till methods, and/or cover crops such as winter-grown vetch that's tilled in to the paddy as "green manure" come spring, farmers can reduce costs and environmental impact at the same time. Is there any scientific evidence to back up either of these viewpoints?
I think the former opinion is correct in some ways, because regions with small farms often have highly heterogeneous landscapes. Paddies that are terraced or at the bottom of narrow valleys are often bordered by forests or grassy areas. Biodiversity in traditional Japanese rural areas depends on these mixed landscapes long maintained with high labor input from farmers. But over the past 50 years, even on small farms, chemical use has risen and fields have been modernized.
On the other hand, we have little evidence about the positive effect of cover crops and low- or no-till methods on biodiversity. We're currently doing a project with the Environment Ministry to evaluate the effect of "environmentally friendly agriculture" on biodiversity. We've found that there is a positive effect on the populations of species that naturally control pests, but we also found that impacts differ according to field location, climate and landscape heterogeneity.
Is there any scientific consensus about the relationship between intensive farming and environmental impact on rice farms?
The current consensus is that overly intensive agriculture has a negative impact on biodiversity. On the other hand, excessively low-intensity farming has a negative impact on production.
If farmers want to use non-intensive methods without reducing productivity, then they need higher labor inputs — similar to traditional practices. But in the countryside in Japan, the number of farmers has been decreasing and the average age of those remaining has been going up. This means that labor-intensive methods are difficult to sustain.
We at NIAES are trying to help develop a truly sustainable agriculture that balances environmental conservation and productivity.
U.S., U.K. advises citizens in quake vicinity to evacuate
LONDON/WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. Embassy in Japan has asked American citizens living within an 80-kilometer radius of the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Japan to evacuate as a precautionary measure.
"We are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical," the embassy said in the advice issued Thursday local time.
Conditions such as weather and wind direction will affect the area of radioactive contamination in a complex way, the embassy said, adding that low-level radioactive materials can reach areas more than 80 km away from the damaged nuclear power plant.
The Japanese government currently sets the evacuation zone covering areas within a 20-km radius of the plant and advises those within a 30-km radius to stay indoors.
Meanwhile, Britain on Wednesday advised its nationals living in Tokyo and areas north of the Japanese capital to evacuate in light of an ongoing nuclear crisis at the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.
It said the British Embassy in Japan plans to arrange free buses from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture to Tokyo on Thursday for evacuating British nationals. It also advised against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and northeastern Japan.
"For those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is no real human health issue that people should be concerned about," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"However, due to the evolving situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility and potential disruptions to the supply of goods, transport, communications, power and other infrastructure, British nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area," it said.
Japan's future is hardly predictable
So this is how history is made. An astonishing phenomenon. Suddenly we are all lifted as by a whirlwind out of our individual, quotidian, petty concerns, into something larger, much larger. Only one name does it justice: Revolution.
There are many striking things about the revolt sweeping the Arab world — sweeping it clean, we hope, though it's far too early to say. Journalists, historians, novelists, poets, intellectuals of all kinds will be writing about it for decades to come, centuries maybe, plumbing depths closed to us who watch it unfold day by day. Even we, though, can see this much: No one, anywhere, saw it coming. Which is scarcely less astonishing than the event itself.
Think of all the brainpower, the trained intelligence, the electronic equipment, focused every second of every day and night on that most strategic and volatile region on Earth. And suddenly, in an instant, everything they had all been observing, scrutinizing, analyzing and probing, morphed out of recognition, leaving the observers and analysts gaping in the same dumb surprise as the rest of us.
Suddenly masses of people in several countries, people who had been living quietly for decades, going about their business, chafing no doubt under their odious regimes but more or less resigned to them — suddenly these masses of people reached a point where they would rather die than go on as they had been. Where is that point? No one knows. And risking arrest, torture, maiming, death, they rose up as one and forced two dictatorships — Tunisia's and Egypt's, both staunch and valued allies of the Western democracies — out of their fortress-palaces into ignominious exile. It's breathtaking.
Among the many, many questions it raises is this: Is the future totally unpredictable? Is history an orderly progression of some sort, or is it a mere chaos, simply whatever happens to happen, analyzable, if at all, only in retrospect?
A thousand years ago the Japanese government included a Bureau of Divination, charged with observing the motions of the planets and stars, noting portents and omens, interpreting dreams. The future was an open book, to those who could read it. The closing of that book must have been very distressing for humankind. Is it really closed? Not for everyone. Fortunetellers flourish to this day in many parts of Asia.
Whether pundits and researchers see farther than they do was never clear and is now less so than ever, after their blindsiding by two defining events of our immediate present — the current Arab upheavals and the global financial collapse of 2008. But somehow failure fails to tarnish them, or to dent the respect their qualifications inspire.
Predictably, Shukan Asahi magazine's recent cover story, "Japan in 2030," quotes no diviners. As for the pundits, what they see is basically what we all see. Common sense is not often clairvoyant, but it sometimes is, and Japan's near-term future is — seems, at least — less murky than many things. Japan in 2030 will be older, smaller and less vigorous than Japan in 2011, which in turn is older, smaller and less vigorous than Japan 20 years ago. Less vigor means more predictability — until, of course, the national energy has drained to such a level as to put its very survival at stake. That's unlikely to happen this side of 2030, and so Shukan Asahi's experts are probably on safe ground in foreseeing a shriveling economy forcing the shrinking "productive" generation (aged 15-64) into increasing and debilitating dependence on the swelling older generation (65 and up) whose care needs risk going largely unaddressed because the shriveled economy will lack the vigor to address them.
Let's look at these forecasts more closely. They may not be infallible but they're certainly interesting. The demographic outlook is unalterable barring a sudden shift of public opinion in favor of mass immigration. At present there's no sign of such a shift — which, of course, doesn't rule it out. The current population of 127 million is expected to contract to 115 million by 2030. The "productive" segment will decline from 81 million now to 67 million. The elderly segment will rise from 29 million to 37 million.
Shrinking population equals shrinking consumption, which saps production, which lowers wages, which reduces consumption still further . . . and so on, a downward spiral. In its midst, the current 6,000-odd senior citizens' homes accommodating some 400,000 residents will not be supplemented at anything approaching the rate of elderly population increase, so that waiting lists, already 400,000 names long, will swell to an estimated 2.1 million names by 2030. Who will care for those 2.1 million? Their struggling families. Who else?
Is this the future, or the past? It's both. Shukan Asahi and its pundits see Japan returning to, if not traditional three-generation households, at least three-generation clusters in which grown children live near their parents, caring for them when necessary and enlisting them as child-minders when possible, because one tradition there's no going back to anytime soon is the full-time housewife and mother. Few families can live comfortably nowadays on a single income.
So far, so (relatively) predictable. But beyond that? Japan in 2050? 2100? The oracles are silent — or foolhardy.
Seorang remaja bertanya bagaimana agaknya tahap kemajuan Jepun selepas tragedi yang menimpa negara tersebut? Katanya kekalahan dalam peperangan Dunia Kedua telah memberi impact dalam memajukan rakyatnya sehingga Jepun menjadi antara mercu negara modern. Jadi kejatuhan kali ini mungkin sahaja akan memberi kebangkitan yang semakin hebat di Jepun. Saya menjadi bungkam dengan analisa tersebut, tiada terlintas sebelum ini.
Jepun adalah negara yang mengusahakan tanaman padi walaupun mengikut perkiraan ekonomi, ianya lebih menguntungkan Jepun sekiranya ia mengimport keseluruhan bekalan berasnya. Tetapi Jepun terus menanam padi walaupun ianya masih terpaksa mengimport beras dari luar. Ya, baru kelmarin saya membeli beras Jepun untuk membuat sushi, tetapi beras Jepun itu diimport dari USA.
Hari ini rakyat Jepun yang menanam padi secara tradisional tidak menyesal, memandangkan aktivitinya telah menyelamatkan persekitaran, memberi ruang untuk patung-patung (dragonflies) dan katak bendang untuk hidup, selain menghasilkan beras organik yang lebih sihat. Keupayaan menghasilkan makanan asasi di dalam negara sendiri adalah amat penting untuk kestabilan nasional , lihatlah bagaimana USSR boleh tergugat akibat embargo gandum pada tahun 1990'an. Sekarang ini ketenteraman sebahagian negara Arab dapat terancam hanya dengan kenaikan harga roti yang banyak bergantung kepada harga gandum yang diimport.
Sementara rakyat Jepun yang terlibat dalam pembinaan Loji Kuasa Nuklear mungkin terasa terkilan yang amat, memandangkan hasil kerja mereka yang membekalkan 30% sumber tenaga Jepun selama ini telah menjadi ancaman. Dakwaan tenaga dari nuklear adalah sumber bagi tenaga bersih dan mesra-alam telah terbatal, bahkan ianya telah bertukar menjadi raksasa yang ganas dan menakutkan.
Masyarakat Jepun punya nilai-nilai baik yang masih utuh. Mereka masih tidak membazirkan makanan, mereka habiskan semua butir nasi yang dihidang. Mereka sedia menyumbang dan berkongsi pendapatan dengan masyarakat, mereka masih bersedia membuat kerja-kerja amal secara sukarela. Mereka masih mempunyai keyakinan (trust) kepada stuktur masyarakat mereka. Mereka masih mempunyai disiplin yang tinggi. Inilah nilai-nilai 'samurai' yang membuat mereka untuk bangkit semula selepas mereka rebah.
Sedangkan masyarakat kita, keyakinan pada sistem dan stuktur masyarakat telah terhakis dengan teruknya semenjak zaman Tun Mahathir. Ketua Polis kita dikatakan menumbuk tahanan dalam lokap, saintis kita membuat analisa DNA yang ada pada tilam yang kemudiannya dikatakan tidak relevant, hakim kita digelar 'hakim coklat Hacks', mahkamah kita dikatakan 'kangaroo court', menteri kita pun terlibat dalam rasuah, anak-anak PM waktu itu adalah pengarah dalam puluhan syarikat.
Sekarang ini ketenatan itu masih tidak sembuh sepenuhnya, Tun Mahathir yang menyumbang kepada ketenatan itu pula masih mahu terlibat terus, dia berperanan besar dalam menjatuhkan pengantinya sendiri. Dia dilihat terlibat dengan kumpulan pejuang bangsa yang dicurigai oleh bangsa-bangsa lain. Mungkin sahaja semakin dia aktif, semakin banyaklah 'damage-control' yang perlu dilakukan oleh PM sekarang ini.
Seperkara lagi, bagaimana masa depan Kilang Rare earth di Gebeng selepas tragedi yang menimpa Loji Nuklear Jepun, bagaimana masa depan Bendang Padi SRI Tunjong selepas Pak Eip Saifuddin pulang ke Tasikmalaya? Siapakah pula yang punya nilai-nilai pendekar melayu ketimbang nilai-nilai samurai Jepun?