Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Refugees of Modern Technologies

While Tokyo dwellers attempt to show their support for tsunami victims by buying vegetables grown in Fukushima that have been scanned with Geiger counters held by the steady hand of officials, refugees continue to suffer in evacuation centers in Iwate and elsewhere in extremely tight quarters, often with no running water. It has been six weeks since the tsunami and victims still don't have basic necessities.

Being a victim in Japan has historically been rough. Those who experienced the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were discriminated against and so were their children. Radiation sickness was thought to be hereditary or even contagious, so many victims and their progeny have kept their experience under wraps. Those disfigured by mercury poisoning in Minamata were told by government-employed scientists that it was the result of incest and poverty. It could not be but genetic or self-inflicted. Tanizaki Jun'ichiro's tome Makioka Sisters, described the plight of one of four sisters whose tuberculosis kept her from finding a marriage partner as the disease was incorrectly believed to be hereditary.

This handful of examples shows how refugees of modern technologies and diseases in Japan face the brunt force of a patrilineal system that tends to be callous toward its victims.

Refugees of the tsunami, its victims, are still struggling to live that elusive "normal day." 166 refugees in three centers in Rikuzen Takada on April 17,18,19 (down from approximately 356 people previously in these three centers) discuss what makes everyday living impossible.

1. There is enough food, but there are toilets that don’t have running water. Taking baths is difficult. There are no refrigerators or freezers, so food cannot be stored.

2. We are anxious about where we will go. We are told that we will be evicted in mid-May but we have no idea where we will go. Temporary housing for us is a big concern.

3. We can’t bathe and our cars were ruined so we can’t go anywhere. We can’t do laundry.

4. Primary health problems include nausea, lack of appetite, gastritis, coughing, insomnia, headaches, hay fever.

5. Small children can’t get a balanced diet necessary for a growing child.

6. The stress of communal living is high. Families live in hallways; multiple families live in one small room.

7. We want to work but there are no jobs.

8. There is not appropriate food for the elderly (they would like miso soup).

9. Paraplegics or those who are disabled have trouble getting up and down.

10. We would like spring and summer pants.

Volunteers need:

-Help with large scale debris removal

-Help with handing out donated food

-Help with dealing with stress experienced by refugees and staff who have also experienced the disaster. This would need to be an ongoing long-term help.

-Some way of helping with stress by providing alternative activities for refugees, outlets for dealing with stress.

---Information provided by Takashi Matsuda, chaplain, currently volunteering at various refugee centers in Iwate

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature Moves beyond the Nation

There is a global effort to force a more international participation in solving the crisis at Fukushima by citizens around the world. This effort is founded in a position that I believe to be true: that it makes no sense to put a single for-profit corporation or a single nation in charge of a crisis that is quickly becoming international in scale. It seems to me that this is a matter of greater national security for the western seaboard of the US than some aspects of the so-called war on terror. Should we send up a color-coded alert system to alert mothers in Spokane where according to CNN iodine-131 has already shown up in milk? Or a warning system for cesium-137 in fish?

Protesters have been posted outside of TEPCO offices almost since day one of the catastrophe. Mostly recently, people held rallies in Tokyo on April 10th against nuclear power plants and the incompetence at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant. About 17,500 people gathered Sunday for two rallies held in Tokyo. At Koenji, a place I’ve known for its excellent used bookstores, 15,000 people held a march organized by local shop owners. A petition is being circulated on the web that began in Paris. Signed by environmental historians, professors of economics, philosophers, journalists, and others including the esteemed philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers, this petition expresses concerns over the handling of the crisis at Fukushima by TEPCO and the Japanese government. It especially recognizes the urgent need to treat this incident as a global problem to be solved by global groups: “We believe urgent that TEPCO’s actions are placed under international civic control on behalf of human and environmental rights, concerning in particular the ocean.” And, “The Earth as a whole is our common concern; the general interest should prevail over managerial and State forms of reasoning and power. It is high time that citizens play a role at the international level in the technical evaluations which legitimize installations that compromise our living conditions.” (http://appeldefukushima.wordpress.com/fukushima-putting-the-catastrophe-under-citizen-control/)

To date, international cooperation has already helped to provide some aid to Japan. Countless NGOs sought from the disaster’s earliest days to aid evacuees of Fukushima and environs. The US government prevailed in its urgent request to TEPCO to stop dumping saltwater on its generators and the US Navy provided freshwater to the plant for cooling. But there is so much more to be done.

This incident should help us see, perhaps more than any other in our human history, that Nature moves and cannot be bounded by national interests. It moves around us and through us. As these calls for global participation in the solving of the Fukushima crisis illustrate, there is no “Japan” here, but both a highly localized world of contamination near the Fukushima plant and a highly dispersed one in the sea and ocean currents that lead away from it. For toxins that persist across time and space, we cannot rely on one private company working with one national government to solve it.

We're all in this together.