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Vol. 76/No. 17      April 30, 2012

Death toll mounts in capitalist-made
disaster following tsunami in Japan
(front page)
The death toll continued to mount long after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami swept Japan. According to a recent survey by the Japanese news agency Kyodo News, more than 1,300 additional disaster-related deaths have been officially recognized by local governments.

Some 20,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as a direct result of capitalist social relations that put millions of workers, small fishermen and others along a sea coast prone to tsunamis—without adequate warning systems, sea walls and evacuation procedures.

The survey was largely ignored by the press outside the country—a fact that underscores once again how the reality and scope of the deaths and lingering social disaster continue to be overshadowed by hysteria around radiation released by the near meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, which, in fact, has reportedly killed or sickened no one.

But people died of starvation and other torments because the government needlessly blocked family and rescuers from the area.

The new figure compiled by Kyodo News “includes a large number of elderly people who died of aspiration pneumonia, as well as suicides and deaths resulting from the stress of living in evacuation shelters,” reports Japan Times.

The 1,331 additional reported deaths is understated. The Japanese news agency collected data of deaths in which prefectural and municipal governments ruled in favor of applications for disaster-related condolence money. Many were turned down.

According to a report released in February by the Independent Fact-Finding Committee on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, says a March 10 Associated Press dispatch, many “perished because of bad planning and miscommunication between government agencies” in the evacuation of six Fukushima hospitals within the 12-mile evacuated area around the nuclear plant.

AP gives the example of what happened at the Futaba Hospital and a related senior center. Of the 435 people evacuated, 21 died either in buses en route to evacuation centers, or in the hospitals themselves, before they could be admitted to another medical facility. “It was complete chaos,” said Jin Ishida, whose grandfather died in the evacuation.

One year later, according to medical officials interviewed by AP, “little has been done to fix systemic planning shortfalls … that compounded that day’s horrors.”

Meanwhile, a government-appointed panel released earlier this month an updated hazard map detailing the destruction that a quake and tsunami of a similar magnitude could cause along a stretch of Japan many times more populous from Tokyo southward.

Local governments are left to themselves to reassess their evacuation plans.

The New York Times reported April 9 the case of Kuroshio, a town of 13,000 at the south of the Japanese archipelago that would be submerged by a tsunami as high as 112 feet in the worst case scenario projected by the new study. “About four-fifths of the population inhabits low-lying areas that would be inundated by a large tsunami,” said the Times.

“There is talk of relocating parts of the city to higher ground,” wrote the Times. “But the thrust of the town’s current contingency plans is simply: be prepared to flee for higher ground.”

But under capitalism, such “talk” has far more effect on land values than spurring bosses and their governments to divert any resources from their profits to measures that could save the lives of working people. Their response to disasters is governed by the reigning law of value.

In Kuroshio, a granite marker placed after the last deadly tsunami in 1854 still stands: “The farms and rice paddies became the sea. Let this be a warning for the next 100 years.”  
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