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2011年9月20日 (火)

敬老の日 住民が見守り合う地域社会に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 20, 2011)
Disaster proves value of neighborly ties
敬老の日 住民が見守り合う地域社会に(9月19日付・読売社説)

The Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit hardest in regions where the ratio of elderly residents is relatively high compared with the national average.

There are many elderly people among those who have taken shelter in temporary housing units in neighboring areas or moved to other parts of the country.

Respect-for-the-Aged Day is a time to reflect on this.

Efforts to help the disaster-affected elderly rebuild their daily lives will give important hints for improving administrative services for the elderly nationwide in the months ahead.

Japanese society is graying year after year at an ever-accelerating pace.

People aged 65 or older now make up 23 percent of the total population.

Over the next 10 years, the ratio will rise to about 30 percent.

About one in every six elderly people, or 4.6 million individuals, lives alone.

This number has increased by more than 1.5 million over the past 10 years, and 10 years from now, the number is projected to reach 6.3 million.

According to a Cabinet Office survey, 20 percent of elderly men living alone and nearly 10 percent of elderly women living alone said they have "no one to turn to in time of need."

We should foster new bonds to make up for the ever-weakening ties within regions and among blood relations.


A prototype for tomorrow

In this sense, the challenge of rebuilding disaster-affected communities in ways that do not leave elderly residents feeling lonely may help us find ways to better deal with the rapid graying of society as a whole.

For instance, in disaster-affected areas, attempts are now under way to provide people with housing that harks back to life in row-house neighborhoods where residents would keep a kindly eye on each other.

The city government of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, in cooperation with the Institute of Gerontology of the University of Tokyo, has built temporary housing units designed to help residents foster neighborly contact.

With the entrances of the houses facing each other and a roofed wooden deck linking them, these homes were arranged so residents would be able to visit each other with ease.

The residents are also provided with nursing care service for the elderly and play space for children. It is the sort of community where various generations of people, not only the elderly but also families with children, can help each other.

This is a concept that can be utilized not merely in temporary housing units but also for town planning in the future.


Visitors provide human touch

In Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, city workers called "shopping and lifestyle supporters" visit temporary housing units and sell food and daily goods out of a bicycle trailer.

The service is primarily designed to offer everyday living support for elderly or disabled evacuees who are disadvantaged in doing their daily shopping. But the workers are also hearing how people are doing, learning what they need and watching over them.

The program is also a welfare-oriented, job-creating measure.

Such efforts in disaster-affected areas serve as important models for measures to be taken more widely in the months ahead.

Local governments that have accepted evacuees into their public housing units across the country are also making efforts to build up regular contact by making door-to-door visits, so as to avoid such tragic situations as elderly people dying unattended.

We should use these experiences to create more communities that the elderly will find livable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 19, 2011)
(2011年9月19日01時33分  読売新聞)


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