Meeting the Needs of Disabled Evacuees in Kumamoto


Vulnerable Evacuees

Elderly evacuees at a shelter in an elementary school in Mifune, Kumamoto Prefecture.

One month has passed since devastating earthquakes hit Kumamoto Prefecture in mid-April. Electricity, water, and other utilities are being steadily restored, and as people return to their homes the number of evacuees has dropped from around 180,000 to 10,000. As of May 11, classes had resumed at all public schools within the prefecture. Construction of temporary housing has also begun, and authorities in the affected area are pushing forward with recovery efforts. Several local governments are still struggling to resume operations, however, and in some areas there have been delays in providing nursing care and other necessary services for elderly, disabled, and similarly vulnerable residents.

Quake Effects in Kumamoto Prefecture (as of May 15)

Earthquake fatalities 49
Disaster-related deaths 19
Missing 1
Injured 1,664 (348 seriously)
Evacuation shelters 235
Evacuees 10,434
Homes Destroyed 2,847
Partially destroyed 5,324
Damaged 32,408
Households without tap water 2,400

Source: Kumamoto Prefecture

Kikumoto Keiichi, president of Nihon Soudanshien Senmon’in Kyoukai.

Kikumoto Keiichi, president of Nihon Soudanshien Senmon’in Kyoukai (NSK), which is conducting support activities in Kumamoto Prefecture, talked about some of the evacuees who need the most help.

“Disabled people and their families in the evacuation shelters feel a sense of constraint. For example, even when the Self-Defense Forces set up temporary communal baths in the shelters, many choose not to use them because they’re worried about causing others inconvenience. We work with local officials and welfare facilities to meet the needs of those who require help, especially those who find it hard to bring up the subject themselves, and make arrangements for them to, say, use baths at nearby nursing institutions.”

Responding to Individual Circumstances

NSK deploys specialized counselors to ensure disabled people in regional Japan are able to receive the services they need. In areas where public welfare has been severely affected—as in Tōhoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake—it has secured replacement accommodations and nursing volunteers for those disabled people who required them. Immediately following the recent disaster, too, Kikumoto and other members of the organization traveled to Kumamoto where they surveyed disabled people in the area on what services they needed and worked to provide them in accordance with their respective requirements. As of May 11, they had surveyed some 2,000 people.

“Now that a month has gone by since the earthquakes, it’s extremely important to find housing. People’s needs are different depending on their disabilities, and it’s our job to help each of them find a suitable place to live and to ensure new residences have support services. A family with a child who attends a school for the blind had been looking for an evacuation shelter with private rooms for a long time, and the other day we informed them about a shelter in the city of Kōshi. But this was far from where they used to live, meaning it would be difficult to make the journey to school. Now we’re trying to find a volunteer to assist with the journey so that we can support the child’s desire to continue attending school. While the media has been reporting the good news that schools have reopened, there are still many children with difficulties commuting, such as those who attend schools for students with special needs, and we’d like to help them as quickly as we can.”

Rikkyō University Professor Nagasaka Toshinari.

The information gathered by NSK staff in the disaster area is stored in a system developed by Nagasaka Toshinari, a professor at Rikkyō University who specializes in disaster management and communications. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, a number of organizations conducted surveys separately, meaning that the same people ended up answering similar questions from different people. To avoid placing an unnecessary burden on Kumamoto residents, the IT system developed by Nagasaka enables information to be shared efficiently and support to be provided in exactly the form that is required. Mobile homes from a nonprofit organization headed by celebrity Shimizu Kuniaki and camper vans purchased via support from the Nippon Foundation have also proved to be extremely useful in NSK’s activities.

“We could use them as places to stay near the disaster area and also as offices. It was really helpful to have bases where staff could come together in places like Mashiki, where local infrastructure had suffered serious damage. Mobile homes and camper vans made it possible for us to be more meticulous in our support activities.”

NSK specialists outside their trailer house office.

NPO members gather at the center established by the Nippon Foundation. (Photo courtesy of the Nippon Foundation.)

On April 26, the Nippon Foundation established a support center near the Kumamoto Prefectural Office as a base for nonprofit organizations and volunteers involved in recovery activities, making possible smoother coordination with the local authorities. Umetani Yoshiaki, the director of the center, said, “It’s being used as office space by NPOs so they can share information and opinions and facilitate relief efforts. We’re also encouraging corporations to send volunteers so that we’ll be ready to meet new needs as they emerge.”

(Originally written in Japanese by Kawasaki Miho of and published on May 16, 2016. Photos by Hashino Yukinori. Banner photo: Junior high school students walking to attend classes at reopened schools on May 9, 2016. © Jiji.)

earthquake disaster Kumamoto