The preparation for emergency temporary housing started two days after the Great Earthquake. It was, however, not until the end of March that 30,000 units were constructed and it was in August the scheduled number of 48,300 units were completed, including over 1,000 units outside Hyogo prefecture. In Japan, temporary housing is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Welfare (presently the Ministry of Welfare and Labor) based on the Disaster Relief Act (enacted in October, 1947) and set up by the prefectural governor. The delay was caused due to the fact that the construction of temporary housing is approved only on public lands and it took time to secure the construction sites. Most housing was built on the outskirts of each city utilizing reclaimed lands and sites scheduled to be developed. In some places, a huge housing site with over 2,000 units emerged.

Livability of the Temporary Housing

Temporary housing site, Nishinomiya city, in August, 1995, when the number of residents was at its peak

The average size of the units was around 26.4m2. A unit with two rooms, a kitchen and a pre-fabricated bath was the most common model. People, at last, had a place to change their clothes or to rest without worrying about being seen, which was not possible in an evacuation center. An area of 26.4m2 was, however, far from sufficient for a family with growing children. It was no more than a space surrounded by a plywood floor only 30cm above the ground surface, and a roof and walls made of thin wooden sheet plated by thin galvanized iron. No thermal insulation or soundproof material was installed and voices from next-door were clealy audible. Room temperature rose to 40C in summer and decreased to below zero in winter. It was far from being called a dwelling. An air conditioner was installed in exceptional cases, but most of the dwellers were in such a severe financial condition that due to their concerns about the energy cost, they rarely used it.

In addition, people did not know each other in the site because who moved into which site was decided quite irrelevantly to their original community. They had to rely on buses for daily shopping and visiting hospitals. Many said, "We are as if being exiled to a remote island." There were no houses available for them even if they wanted to move out, and, in some cases, people had to stay for as long as 5 years. At first, the government and municipalities intended to break up the temporary housing after 2 years at the longest, but it did not go as planned. It could be argued that due to this poor housing environment, as many as 235 residents died a kodokushi, a solitary death all alone, during their stay.

Even under such circumstances in the temporary housing sites, there were some cases in which residents encouraged each other, building up close relationships aided by volunteers at a rapport center, a center created to help develop communication. Administration, however, gave no consideration to such relationships when moving the people into reconstruction public housing units afterwards. It was decided mechanically who was to move where, only giving priority to the elderly people. Again, the same mistakes were repeated.

Temporary Housing in Taiwan

Temporary housing site in Taiwan built immediately after the earthquake with approaches covered by shades. A clinic, daycare center and supermarket were set up near the entrance.

Taiwan was stricken by an earthquake greater than the Great Hanshin Earthquake in September, 1999. The size of the temporary housing units built in the affected area were about 40m2, reflecting the fact that the majority of the families had 6 members. In a city with a population of around 80,000 near the epicenter, half of the temporary housing units were constructed by private sectors such as religious bodies, transportation companies and restaurant owners. The housing site of about 400 houses had a clinic, a daycare center, and a supermarket. People were free to run a business within the site and sunscreens covering roofs were entwined with pumpkins and fruit trees. People appeared to be thinking about how to make their life there more comfortable creating an impressively upbeat atmosphere.

(KANAJI Nobuko)