Only 20% of municipalities in Fukushima have support plans in place for disaster relief at welfare facilities

The number of cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture that have welfare facilities in place for sheltering elderly and handicapped people during disasters stood at 51 as of March this year, up sharply from 11 in 2010, the year before the Great East Japan Earthquake. But only 11 municipalities were found to have put emergency welfare aid schemes into shape in terms of human support and 12 had such schemes for relief supplies, both representing only about 20% of the total. The findings are based on a survey of welfare shelters designated by municipalities as of March. It was conducted by the prefectural government and others. Behind the small proportion of municipalities well prepared for such welfare shelters during disasters are shortages of both human resources and welfare facilities stemming from population outflows and depopulation in rural areas that have made it difficult for regional communities to build support systems only by themselves. The Fukushima prefectural government is poised to discuss means of coping with such realities, including cooperation across a wide area in dispatching welfare experts in the event of disasters. Nursing homes for the elderly and other well-equipped welfare facilities for socially vulnerable people have been designated as welfare shelters. As of March 2010, only 11 municipalities had such welfare shelters secured, but the number increased to 51 last March as the central and prefectural governments urged municipal administrations to step up shelter designation amid reports of elderly evacuees who died in the absence of welfare shelters immediately after the quake and subsequent nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Most such deaths were regarded as being associated with the disaster. The number of facilities designated as welfare shelters was just 37 in 2010 but soared to 359 as of last March. A Cabinet Office guideline calls for welfare shelters to secure one social worker for every 10 elderly evacuees. The 11 Fukushima municipalities having welfare shelters secured have concluded agreements with social welfare councils, care support providers and other parties under which welfare specialists will be dispatched in times of disasters. Some municipalities covered by the survey said they are scheduled to sign such contracts soon, but many replied they are “considering concluding agreements” or “will fix details in the future.” Some municipalities have failed to reach agreement due to personnel shortages in the communities concerned. (Translated by Kyodo News)