By Rumi Naito, Program Officer of Peace Winds America, For The North American Post
Rumiko Ohnari was pinned beneath a bookcase in her ruined house by the tremblor that rocked Kumamoto Prefecture one year ago on April 16. The heavy piece of furniture broke Rumiko’s leg, but the rest of the family was unharmed, including her three dogs. Like many in Kumamoto, the Ohnari family was rejected by numerous shelters because they wouldn’t give up their dogs. Instead, the family slept in their car for three months until they were connected with Peace Winds, a Seattle-based NGO providing pet-friendly shelters to evacuees in Mashiki, the epicenter of the earthquake. During an in-person interview at her new temporary house in Mashiki last October, Rumiko told Peace Winds, “We could not survive without the Peace Winds shelter.”
Challenging Lives of Kumamoto Evacuees
This April marks the one-year anniversary of Kumamoto Earthquakes. Peace Winds reconnected with Rumiko in the hopes of hearing about her well-being. “We can’t make a living…” were her first words over the phone. After the disaster, the household income of the still evacuated residents has declined dramatically as there are not enough jobs available. The population in Mashiki has decreased by 15%. This depopulation has made it difficult for local businesses to continue. The disaster-caused economic depression is one of the serious problems in Mashiki.
Rumiko kept pleading. “I found that all my three dogs have lost some of their teeth. Can you believe this? “Her dogs stay home all day in a tiny cage in her very small temporary house (only 208 square feet) because Rumiko works outside. These dogs have to stay inside even on weekends because the neighbors who don’t own pets complain about any dog’s behavior. Now the no-dog-outside rule is strictly regulated by her township committee. Rumiko has found that her dogs have been completely stressed out by being caged.
Pets Need Shelter in Kumamoto
Pets have been an important source of comfort for earthquake survivors in Kumamoto. However, many have reluctantly decided to turn their dogs over to pet shelters because of their limited living space. Now, pet shelters are full. Peace Winds has decided to support a local dog rescue organization called Dog Rescue Kumamoto. Following the earthquakes, this shelter was inundated with animals and staff can not keep up with the demand. Yoshihiro Ikumatsu, a representative of Dog Rescue Kumamoto says, “The day-to-day work taking care of the animals limits the time staff has to look for foster parents. With just two staff, Dog Rescue Kumamoto is getting a boost of support from Peace Winds.
Temporary Shelters Working Together To Help Elderly Residents
One year after the earthquakes, support from outside organizations has decreased so the residents must help one another. A Local Union Network of township presidents from the 18 temporary housing sites in Mashiki was established in February. The Union is concerned about the decline of the physical health of elderly long-term residents, as well as an increase in their “dying alone anxieties.” The Union aims to improve the safety and security of elderly residents by working together to address these issues and share the best practices.
Yasohachi Tawara, the township president of Hirosaki temporary housing, helped establish the Union. Yasohachi, an 83-year-old resident and one of the many elderly in temporary housing, worries about the elderly living alone. Yasohachi says, “strengthening the collaboration and coordination among all temporary housing sites will help each township deal with their problems.” The Union also provides community gatherings that bring all residents together across all townships. Yasohachi believes this helps reduce isolation for the elderly, rebuild their lives, and create a real sense of community. In their work in Tohoku after the 2011 disasters, Peace Winds learned that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to isolation which has caused premature death among temporary housing residents. Peace Winds has supported the Union’s efforts by not only providing financial support but also leadership training sessions to the Union leaders.
[About Peace Winds]
Peace Winds America (PWA), is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Seattle and operating internationally. Since 2008, PWA has focused on strengthening preparedness and response to natural disasters in the Asia Pacific, with relief and recovery efforts in Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Nepal, and the Philippines. For more information about Peace Wind’s efforts to mitigate and respond to natural disasters in the Asia Pacific, please visit www.peacewindsamerica.org.