Town employees exhausted, nurses look to quit 1.5 months since deadly Japan quake – The Mainichi

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Town employees exhausted, nurses look to quit 1.5 months since deadly Japan quake – The Mainichi


Noto Municipal Government employee Toshihiro Tada sorts relief supplies in Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Feb. 8, 2024. “We employees are on the edge,” he said. (Mainichi/Shinji Kurokawa)


Nearly a month and a half since the New Year’s Day Noto Peninsula earthquake struck central Japan, some relief workers say they can’t continue if conditions go on as they are. Many were themselves affected by the disaster, and measures are urgently needed to reduce their physical and mental burden.


About 5,000 houses in the town of Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, were damaged in the temblor, and eight residents had died from the disaster as of Feb. 9.


At an inland gymnasium-turned-relief center on Feb. 8, 48-year-old municipal worker Toshihiro Tada was surrounded by deliveries of cardboard boxes of relief supplies. “In February, I started being able to take one day off a week. I don’t feel like cleaning up when I go home, so it’s still as messy as when the earthquake hit.”


In principle, support staff are responsible for surveying damage to buildings, but Noto Municipal Government employees need to guide them. “There are some staffers who come to work from evacuation centers and stay overnight at the town hall. My situation is better than theirs,” said Tada.


Another employee, 40, leaves her children at their grandparents’ house and commutes to work from her home, where the cupboards have fallen over. While she was energetic immediately after the quake, recently she has been feeling depressed over the uncertain future.


“Considering the living environment and children’s education,” she said, “it may be better for the family to move out.” Resigning has crossed her mind.


1 in 4 nurses ‘to quit’


Some nurses are moving toward calling it quits. At the 175-bed Wajima Municipal Hospital, the only general hospital in the city, about 30 of the around 120 nurses have indicated they intend to leave their jobs soon.


According to general affairs manager Kuniyuki Kawasaki, several are in their 20s to 40s and raising children. The hospital has been busy with emergency treatments, transfers and other tasks.


Kawasaki reportedly worked around 200 hours of overtime in January, double the “karoshi line” — 100 hours in a single month or about 80 hours averaged over the last two to six months — where overwork can be legally recognized as a cause of death.


“We’re holding our own now because several have evacuated outside the city and patients are few, but it’s critical to maintain normal medical care functions,” Kawasaki added.


As of Feb. 10, a campaign seeking to reduce the burden on public servants and others started by one of the evacuation center volunteers had garnered 32,000 signatures on Change.org. The campaign reportedly aims to ask Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase by mid-February to alleviate the situation.


In response to a string of past disasters that resulted in employees of stricken municipalities taking leave or developing mental illness, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in 2018 established a system of “counterpart support,” in which a prefecture or major designated city is assigned to support disaster-struck municipalities. The system was put into use during the heavy rains and floods in west Japan that July. Following the Noto Peninsula earthquake, a total of 1,160 people have entered the affected areas under the system.


Saneyuki Udagawa, a special researcher familiar with support for disaster-stricken municipalities at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience, said, “Local managers and certain other roles cannot be substituted, but other areas should be delegated to support staff as needed. We should also consider outsourcing work to the private sector, such as transportation companies and security firms.”


(Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa, Tokyo City News Department)


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