Ungraspable Actual Circumstances of Evacuees Outside Hyogo Prefecture
In January, 2002, seven years after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the population of the earthquake-affected areas as a whole has exceeded that in the pre-earthquake period. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the disaster-hit people came back to their former residence. With people moving in and out, it just resulted in the present population. It is presumed that an enormous number of people moved out of Hyogo prefecture to take refuge, dispersing in a wide area. The actual situation of those people, however, still remains vague. According to the Asahi Newspaper, July 16th, 1996, it was estimated that about 50,000 households or about 120,000 people evacuated to the outside of Hyogo prefecture. In April 1996, the population of the quake hit areas had declined by 162,000 from pre-quake levels. The numbers roughly correspond, though it is difficult to compare as it is unclear as to how many of the evacuees actually transferred their resident certificates.
Inevitable Evacuation to Areas Outside of the Disaster-Hit Prefecture
Evacuation to areas outside the disaster-hit prefecture is one of the effective methods of fleeing from the harsh conditions, to secure safety and to prepare a basis for rebuilding their lives. Especially for the weak such as the aged, the handicapped and the invalid, for whom it is safer to temporarily leave the disaster areas. The dispersal of evacuees also creates room for on-site evacuation centers and temporary housing. In that sense, evacuation to the other areas should be acknowledged as effective in the possible large-scale disasters in the future.
In the case of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, however, wide-area evacuation was regarded as a free choice of individuals without being clearly defined nor cared for. People who took refuge within a wide area were left in a "free" state without being given follow-up care or being surveyed.
In 1996, the Hyogo prefectural government launched the "Come-Back-to-Hyogo Plan (Furusato-Hyogo Kamubakku-Puran)" accompanied by the registration system for those who want to come back to Hyogo and a telephone counseling service. The actual conditions of those who moved out of Hyogo prefecture , however, has not been pinned down.
Little Information for Those outside the Prefecture
According to joint research by a voluntary group, the Support Association for Community Development and Kobe University (December,1999), and to the research by the Kobe Municipal Government (February, 2000), there are people who left the Hyogo prefecture just after the earthquake thinking the evacuation as temporary and intending to come back shortly. They now have no prospect of returning and are in distress. It was also revealed that their living standards have been declining, housing and other living expenses have been increasing, they have few acquaintances, and transportation is an inconvenience. They have been unable to make contact with the other evacuees from the area of evacuation, and have had no chance to exchange communication, to join hands with and to support each other.
For the most part, it has been left up to volunteer groups to support people in such circumstances. One large factor which has been preventing those people from coming back to their hometown is that they could not secure housing. The priority to move into post-disaster public housing was given to the elderly living in temporary housing. Refugees outside Hyogo prefecture at that time were largely uninformed about the application for public housing and other things, and, as a result, were greatly disadvantaged compared to the people who stayed within the prefecture (especially temporary housing dwellers).
The Problem with Transferring Resident Certificates
The administrative bodies may regard the victims who transferred their residence certifications to another prefecture/city as residents of the prefecture/city, but these people, hit by the earthquake, did not move out willingly. They should be treated as disaster-affected people, equally being offered the same amount of information regardless of whether they live inside the prefecture or outside.
In a time of great disaster, temporary evacuation to areas outside of the disaster-hit prefecture is inevitable and has a positive side. If those who left the prefecture, however, are not treated equally as victims and their life-rebuilding is not guaranteed, it means it will be disadvantageous to leave the disaster-hit prefecture. It is necessary in the future to establish a new system among local municipalities to treat the disaster-affected people equally regardless where they are.