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60% of Japan's major cities lack toilet plans for disaster evacuees: Mainichi survey

The gym at Shizugawa Elementary School in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, is seen packed with evacuees in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, in this image taken on March 17, 2011, and provided by photographer Shinichi Sato.
A boys' toilet at the Shizugawa Elementary School gym in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, is seen during the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Buckets filled with water from a swimming pool were used to flush the toilet facilities. The image was taken on March 17, 2011, and was provided by photographer Shinichi Sato.

TOKYO -- A Mainichi Shimbun survey has found that some 60% of Japan's 20 ordinance-designated cities and Tokyo's 23 special wards have yet to formulate a plan for providing and managing toilets in the event of natural disasters, as demanded by the Cabinet Office.

    In the aftermath of a natural disaster, infrastructure can be destroyed, rendering toilets unusable and leading to risks to the health of affected people from infectious diseases and other conditions. Concerns of a worsening situation from toilet shortages are particularly strong in cities, where large populations are concentrated. With the spread of the new coronavirus continuing, the need to formulate a response in preparation for future disasters has become urgent.

    The securing of working toilets during times of disasters began to attract attention after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, which struck west Japan. During the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunamis of 2011, waterworks both above and below ground stopped, and there were cases of toilets not functioning. Some evacuees developed deep vein thrombosis from trying to reduce the number of times they used toilet facilities and refraining from drinking and eating, and others also contracted infectious diseases from unclean bathrooms. Similar issues were confirmed following the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake in Niigata Prefecture, central Japan, and the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes in southwestern Japan.

    The Cabinet Office took into account the experience from disasters including the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunamis to formulate its guideline for securing and management toilets in April 2016. It puts forward criteria such as that there should be roughly one toilet per 50 evacuees in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and that there should be approximately one toilet for every 20 long-term evacuees. It also expects that the toilets should be usable an average of five times per day per person. To relay its expectations, the Cabinet Office sent notifications of the plan to municipal authorities via prefectural governments.

    The Mainichi Shimbun's survey was carried out in August, and received responses from all 43 ordinance-designated cities and special wards. Additional reporting was done until October. The results found that only 18 of the 43 responding authorities reported having implemented the plan based on estimates of how many toilets they would need in the event of a disaster. Additionally, 23 authorities, more than 50% of them, said that they had not secured enough toilets (including portable versions) to fulfill the guidelines' criteria to keep enough to serve the largest projected number of potential evacuees.

    Shinsaku Ueda, representative director of the Society for Disaster Shelter and Refuge Life and deputy head of the Japanese Red Cross Ishinomaki Hospital in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, northeast Japan, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Securing toilets for times of disaster is not just about the lives of those affected, it is also an issue of their dignity. But municipal authorities' awareness has not improved, nor has there been progress in the plan to address the issue. Municipal authorities should be moving ahead with stocking temporary toilet facilities and toilets that evacuees can easily use, and working with other administrations around them to obtain the necessary amounts required."

    The ordinance-designated cities and Tokyo special wards which confirmed in the survey that they have formulated a toilet-securing plan as per the Cabinet Office's guidelines are as follows:

    Ordinance designated cities: Saitama, Chiba, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Sakai, Kobe, Kitakyushu and Kumamoto.

    Special wards: Sumida, Arakawa, Setagaya, Suginami and Nerima.

    (Japanese original by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and Takayuki Kanamori, City News Department)

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