Today we wake to more media scaremongering. If you haven’t seen it yet, this page from the UK Embassy (not the Japanese government), from UK nuclear experts makes it clear that Tokyo is safe from radiation whatever happens.
However, the US (followed by the UK, and probably everyone else) has extended their danger zone out to 80km/50miles around the plant, and are advising people to leave that enlarged area. I don’t know about you, but if I had been outside the 30km, but within 80miles, I think I would be out of there already, so I don’t think this is a very bad sign.
Likewise the US has said that he families of embassy staff can leave Tokyo on a voluntary basis – yes that is what they are saying – that the families may leave if they wish. I had kind of assumed that US citizens would be allowed to leave if they wanted at any stage, but the US have now explicitly given permission. They’ve also arranged some flights to help them get out, which is helpful. But it is still not a major evacuation – they are not advising their people to go, just saying that they can. And they’re not saying anything to other American citizens who happen to be in the country, only the families of American Embassy staff.
But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the Japanese people, and what happens to them next. Japan does not have a welfare state – if you don’t work, you don’t get handouts from the government. When I went walking by the river last Wednesday before all this started, I saw a number of tarpaulin homes along the path. At first it wasn’t obvious what these shacks were – they could have been building or gardening supplies, but then I saw flowerpots outside one, and washing hanging out by another, it became obvious tat people were living in them. And yet in 3 visits to Japan, I have never seen anyone begging, and the crime rate is very low here, so these people manage to get buy somehow without asking for help or stealing it.
I worry that this problem is about to become huge. I don’t know what kind of exceptional payments will be made available to those who have lost everything, but there will be a huge social need here for a long time to come. We’ve all seen the pictures from the north – there are no homes, there are no jobs, there is no infrastructure – there is nothing left. In a state which is not in the habit of giving out money, and may not have the mechanisms to do it, there could be yet more suffering for the survivors. Because of the risk here earthquake insurance is a specific thing, and not included in general house insurance. However, not only is it not mandatory, but quite often people can’t eve get earthquake insurance because of the age, or location, or building style, so a lot of people who have lost homes will get no automatic insurance payout. Japan is a rich country, but not all Japanese people are rich, and I hope that the world’s charities do their bit to help where it is needed in the longer term.