Encouragement after tragedy

People in Kobe and adjacent areas on Tuesday prayed for the souls of the victims of the Jan. 17, 1995, earthquake, which killed 6,434 people. This year’s anniversary was special. It was the first anniversary remembered since the March 11 earthquake-tsunami, which devastated the Pacific coastal areas of Tohoku, killing 15,844 people. Another 3,393 people went missing.

Many people in and around Kobe also prayed for the souls of the victims of the March 11 disasters, just as many people in Tohoku prayed for the souls of the Kobe quake victims. Some people from Tohoku came to Kobe on Tuesday to offer condolences or to find encouragement in the reconstruction the city has achieved.

As Kobe Mayor Tatsuo Yada said in his anniversary speech, it is important to keep the memory of a tragedy. It is especially so for lawmakers and bureaucrats because many people are still suffering from the effects of the March 11 quake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture, and they need support.

Noting that about 40 percent of the Kobe citizens did not experience the 1995 quake, Mr. Yada said it is his duty to hand down the experience and to utilize lessons in helping people and municipalities hit by the March 11 disasters. One lesson these municipalities and their citizens have to learn is the importance of preventing the deaths of elderly people living alone in fabricated houses built for disaster sufferers. In Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe is situated, 190 aged people died alone in such housing within about three years after the quake. Such deaths are still occurring.

Following the March 11 quake and tsunami, more than 50,000 fabricated houses were built and many houses were also publicly rented for disaster sufferers to live in. Municipalities concerned need to learn from Kobe and from experienced nongovernment organizations how to help elderly and disabled people living alone.

Another important issue is to create jobs for disaster sufferers in Tohoku. As of November 2011, some 44,000 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures were receiving unemployment insurance, up nearly 50 percent from a year before. By the end of February, the insurance for up to 4,000 people will expire.

The central and local governments should work together with enterprises and other private-sector organizations to secure jobs for disaster sufferers.