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Many people are still living under inconvenient conditions more than a month after a major earthquake hit Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture on March 25, killing one person and injuring more than 300. In the city of Wajima, the hardest-hit municipality, more than 1,000 houses were either destroyed or damaged. Some 260 people are still sheltering in emergency evacuation facilities in and around Wajima. The central and local governments need to take long-range reconstruction measures, including preferential tax and financial measures to rebuild houses.

The earthquake hit a depopulated area as in the case of the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake of October 2004, which devastated the village of Yamakoshi (now part of the city of Nagaoka). Wajima is one of the 739 municipalities classified as depopulated as of April 2006, where people aged 65 or over accounted for 27 percent of the population on average.

Special care, especially health-related, is needed for aged people remaining in evacuation facilities. Depopulated municipalities need to prepare themselves to assist the elderly when disasters strike in the future. For example, they can strengthen and make operational an existing system to register elderly people, especially those living alone, and designate people who can help them in the event of a disaster.

Many old houses suffered serious damage in the Noto earthquake. Local governments should fully utilize an existing subsidy system to make houses quake-proof. In addition, public buildings that would be used as emergency evacuation facilities must also be made quake-proof as soon as possible.

Elderly people who have been evacuated from isolated communities may choose not to return to them, fearful of future difficulties. It will not be easy to reconstruct these communities. The city of Wajima is building 250 and three other municipalities are building 79 prefabricated houses for quake victims. Both the public sector and people who have not been affected by the Noto earthquake should provide material and moral support that will encourage local residents and municipal workers to rebuild their lives.

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