Survivors of the Fukushima disaster have spent on average five months in government-provided temporary shelters. Pamela Ravasio

By Hiroki and Ngaire Takano
15 February 2012

The earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Japan last year compounded pre-existing issues like falling birth rates, fragmented families and shrinking communities. What does the future hold?

The triple disaster of the earthquake, tsuanami and Fukushima nuclear station meltdown in March 2011, saw intense media focus on the safety of nuclear power. Another of the repercussions not much - if at all - considered in depth by the international media is the social dimension of the disaster: the massive upheaval it brought to local communities.

To someone like me who has lived in, and has had family ties with Japan, an overriding question remains how the disaster affected these communities. The triple disaster has highlighted and compounded such pre-existing underlying issues as falling birth rates, the fragmenting of the family unit, and the shrinking of local communities. During the five years before the disaster, birth rates had been steadily falling in Japan. The now daily concerns about radiation levels, safe food and water have left many young couples unwilling to take on the perceived risky task of raising children in a dangerous environment.

The prevalent trend during the pre-quake years, brought about primarily by lack of economic development in local communities, had been for young people to leave their villages to seek higher-paid jobs in the larger towns and cities, only returning home for holidays and other celebrations.The immediate consequence of this has been the decline of village communities. The longer-term consequence will be the erosion of regional identity, at a time when, more than ever, communities affected by the earthquake need their younger generation.

The March disaster divided families. Mothers and children were forced to move to towns and cities, sometimes 200 - 300 miles away, where securing basic day-to-day services is easier than in their earthquake-stricken communities.

Fathers, many bound by loyalty to their families and too, by the need to meet financial commitments, including repaying mortgages on homes that have been destroyed, have remained behind in their villages. Survivors of the disaster have spent on average five months in government-provided temporary shelters. Temporary accommodation was allocated in a lottery deemed the fairest way of distributing accommodation. Many have found themselves unable to face this additional upheaval compounding the fragmenting of communities, brought about by the failure of governmental officials to consider keeping people from the same area together. […]

Fukushima: the social impact of a nuclear disaster

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