OKAYAMA – Wells dug for emergencies are helping residents and volunteers survive in flood-hit western Japan, where running water remains unavailable in thousands of households weeks since torrential rains wreaked havoc in the region.
While much of the well water is not suitable for drinking, it can be used for cleaning, flushing toilets and other purposes and is particularly helpful to residents who cannot get to distant water supply points.
A private well at a kimono store in the heavily damaged Mabicho district in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, has been used to get water for cleaning and bathing since Sakiko Kanbara opened it to the public shortly after the rains subsided.
“We wanted to do something when public institutions already have their hands full,” said Kanbara, 40, who teaches nursing at a university.
“It’s great we can use it freely,” said Atsushi Koizumi, 35, a volunteer from Shodoshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture who was washing off a shovel and rubber boots.
Volunteer workers have been coming to Kanbara’s store every evening because they can take baths using the water.
“The condition of disaster-hit areas is harsh for volunteer workers as well. We want to keep helping them so they can continue working,” said Kanbara’s 70-year-old father, Kazuyoshi.
About 17,000 households in the hardest-hit Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures were still dry as of Sunday morning as water pipes and other infrastructure damaged by the floods and mudslides remained unfixed.
In Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, a hand-written sign posted on a roadside railing says: “We have well water. Please use it for miscellaneous tasks.”
The sign was posted by a 63-year-old man who had experience with such shortages.
“I suffered from water stoppage before and thought I should dig a well,” he said, adding that the water wasn’t suitable for drinking but could be used for flushing toilets.
Another well owner, Masahiro Watanabe, 76, said wells were particularly useful for seniors.
“There are many old people who cannot travel to water supply points, so I am telling people to take as much water as they need,” he said.
“No matter how much we try to save when using it, we run out of it, so it is very helpful that we can get it nearby,” said a woman in her 60s who resides in the neighborhood.
Susumu Nakano, head of Tokushima University’s Research Center for Management of Disaster and Environment, said that wells are playing an important role in the response to the crisis and that people should regularly check them to see if they can be used when an emergency arises.