Japan counts the humanitarian cost of the earthquake

News release

MANILA, 14 March 2011—The humanitarian cost of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan on 11 March is becoming clearer, with the Japanese government putting the number of dead at 1627, with 1720 missing and 1962 injured.

But, with whole communities devastated by the tsunami, unofficial estimates say the final death toll will probably exceed 10 000. Of the 17 000 people living in the tourist town of Minamisanriku, 10 000 remain unaccounted for.

More than 1 million homes are now without water, with 3.2 million people running out of gas. About 2.5 million households, just over 4% of the total in Japan, have no electricity. More than 200 000 people living within 20 km of nuclear reactors damaged by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake were evacuated, with about 600 others about to be moved.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami as "the toughest and the most difficult crisis" the country had faced in the past 65 years.

Meanwhile, an explosion occurred at 11:00 am on 14 March at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. The explosion was said to be caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas. The container housing the radioactive core was reported to be intact, and Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) reported no increase in radiation levels at the perimeter of Unit 3 following the explosion.

Radiation levels at the boundaries of Unit 3 and Unit 1 increased overnight but later fell back. Workers were continuing to flood the two units in an attempt to prevent a meltdown of the reactor cores. An increase in radiation levels was also detected at the Onagawa nuclear facility, 100 km north of Fukushima, but readings later returned to normal levels. Officials were investigating the possibility that the higher levels may have been caused by material released from Unit 1 at Fukushima Daiichi.

While tsunami alerts across the Pacific have been lowered, low-lying areas on the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea continued to feel the effects of flooding caused by the wave. At Borum Hospital in Wewak, the pharmacy, which is situated on the beach, was badly damaged and its walls were destroyed. All the medicines in the pharmacy were washed away. The cholera isolation ward was also severely damaged and the biomedical and engineering workshop was destroyed.

The World Health Organization is on standby to provide assistance to Papua New Guinea and Japan and is monitoring the situation in both countries.


For more information please contact: Dr Takeshi Kasai, at cellphone +63 918 921 4217 or email kasait@wpro.who.int Dr Arturo Pesigan, at cellphone +63 918 917 8053 or email pesigana@wpro.who.int