Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan earthquake: Survivors battle disease and hunger

Japan's emergency services are struggling to cope as freezing weather, a lack of medicines and insanitary conditions make survival a challenge.

Katsumi Hosokawa's eyes are red-rimmed and he sniffs constantly. He kneels on a bed of cardboard on the second floor of a school that has been turned into temporary accommodation for those who lost their homes in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

"I've had an upset stomach ever since I've been here but they tell me there's no medicine," he says, pulling a blanket closer around him. "But the worst thing is the cold. It was minus four in here last night. I guess it will be the same again tonight."

Mr Hosokawa, 69, is just one of hundreds of thousands of elderly Japanese who are living in primitive conditions the length of the north-east coast of Japan. Doctors say many are in serious danger of succumbing to a number of ailments made worse by stress, a lack of food and sinking temperatures.

Across the third-floor classroom at Watanoha Junior School, in the eastern suburbs of Ishinomaki, the stress is clearly beginning to tell on Chikako Abe, a 66-year-old housewife. "It often feels like I can't go on," she says, tears in her eyes.

"I can't sleep at night and I have bad dreams. And then during the day, there is the stress of all this," she says, waving towards the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the devastated town. The school has become home to more than 1,000 local people whose houses were destroyed in the floods, even though the building was itself badly damaged. (read more)