Japan Still Feeling Effects of Triple Disaster

More than six months have passed since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Power plant, but the effects will be felt for years to come, said Kenji Hayashi, director of the Japan National Institute of Public Health, during remarks at the 2011 Annual Meeting in October.   Over the past 300 years, there have been nine tsunamis in that area, but the 2011 earthquake/tsunami was the worst since 1894. Social memory is short, Dr. Hayashi said. During the 1894 disaster people moved to the highlands but then returned to their ancestral homes, only to be wiped out again during the 2011 disaster.

Today, the Japanese government is footing 90% of the relocation costs for residents of 26 of 37 towns in the affected area. Japan is an aging society, and many of the people who died were over 60. A study on health conditions—both chronic and communicable diseases as well as mental health—revealed a high incidence of insomnia and other sleeping disorders, especially among the elderly. A priority is finding or recruiting parents for children who lost parents. The institute is tracking refugee health status and has assigned staff to MOH headquarters to coordinate rescue teams from various part of Japan. Many survivors are worried about their futures; many lost not only their property but also their jobs. 

The impact of low-dose radiation and extent of spread of long-term radioactivity is controversial, and radiologists are monitoring the levels of radioactivity in breast milk, produce, and water. Over the past decade, Japan has decentralized many functions so it's unclear as to where some responsibilities lie and what local governments should bear. The MOH is responsible for health in the affected area; the monitoring of radioactivity is the purview of the Ministry of Education and Science; and the nuclear plant is under the supervision of Economic Development and Industry.

Japan Disaster