Food safety issues an added dimension to the earthquake and tsunami emergency

25 March, 2011
Japan: Historical Natural Disasters (as of 22 March 2011). Source: OCHA/ReliefWeb
Japan: Historical Natural Disasters (as of 22 March 2011). Source: OCHA/ReliefWeb

Radiation levels above the legal limit have been detected in tap water, milk and leafy vegetables in prefectures closest to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The Government of Japan has warned residents to not consume any of these products, and four prefectures in the area have been ordered to suspend shipments of spinach and 10 other leafy vegetables. The level of radioactive iodine in tap water in Tokyo has been deemed unsafe for infants, and authorities in two prefectures have advised residents to not give tap water to babies.

Over 10,000 people have been confirmed dead and over 17,000 are reported as missing. A recent survey has found that 64 per cent of casualties were over the age of 60, concluding that the elderly were most affected by this disaster likely as a result of not being physically able to evacuate quickly enough.

Snow storms are continuing in affected areas, where residents cannot use heaters because of fuel shortages. Over 500,000 people are without electricity and one million are without gas.

Health care is another major concern. According to local media, 53 per cent of hospitals with 100 beds or more are either closed or only partially operational in the three worst affected prefectures. Hospitals explained this is due to lack of staff and medicine, damaged buildings and equipment, and delayed restoration of water, electricity and gas. The Japanese Red Cross has 48 teams currently on the ground helping to treat injuries and illnesses and provide psychosocial support. Red Cross doctors are seeing an increase in cases of influenza, diarrhoeal diseases, hypothermia and pneumonia.

Positive developments since the earthquake and tsunami include the restoration of over 90 per cent of previously disrupted telecommunications and the opening of 90 per cent of national highways that were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. Roads are open for public use and no longer restricted to emergency vehicles.

The UNDAC mission and all search and rescue operations officially ended on 23 March 2011. UNDAC has handed over their reporting and other functions to an OCHA presence which has been temporarily set up in Japan.

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