12,381 evacuees still live in temporary housing in Fukushima, aged ratio growing

Of residents evacuated elsewhere in or outside Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, a total of 12,381 people were still living in inconvenient temporary housing in the prefecture as of Feb. 20. Of these evacuees, more than 40% were aged 65 or older, posing a challenging issue to local authorities over how to care for them in an organized manner. The number of residents in makeshift accommodation set up after the disaster in Fukushima peaked at 33,016 in July 2012. The latest figure represents a decrease of 20,635 or 62.5%. But the proportion of elderly evacuees 65 years or older is on the rise. It was 38.7% as of May 31, 2015, but climbed to 42.9% a year later, showing an increase of 4.2 percentage points. Prefectural officials believe the number of residents in temporary housing will continue to shrink but that the elderly ratio will rise further. The prefectural government has taken measures to care for the mental health of elderly residents and prevent them being isolated by dispatching life support advisers to temporary residential facilities and leased housing. But there are only 300 such advisors when 400 are needed in the prefecture as a whole. Of social welfare councils in 26 municipalities in the prefecture that dispatch advisory staff, those in more than half -- including eight municipalities in the Futaba region -- have not been able to assign the numbers needed. The current scheme of offering evacuees free temporary housing and leased accommodation has been extended until the end of March 2018. But some officials are concerned that elderly evacuees living in isolation may increase as neighbors move out to live elsewhere, including in permanent public housing for disaster victims, while others return to their hometowns following progress in the restoration of infrastructure there. Evacuation orders issued after the nuclear accident are to be lifted this spring in parts of four more municipalities. Officials of the prefectural government's social welfare section said they intend to expand assistance to prevent isolation of evacuees and other people, including those who return to their hometowns. Meanwhile, the number of evacuees living in or outside the prefecture has fallen below the 80,000 level for the first time, halving from a peak seen after the disaster. But a total of 79,446 are still living away from home. (Translated by Kyodo News)