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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8  > Gov’t should set safety standards on accommodations for low-income elderly people
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2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8 [SOCIAL ISSUES]
column 

Gov’t should set safety standards on accommodations for low-income elderly people

January, 8, 2019

Akahata ‘current’ column

Yokohama’s Kotobuki Town, near Tokyo, used to be a town inhabited by day laborers. It was once called one of the three largest day workers’ districts in Japan, along with Tokyo’s Sanya and Osaka’s Airin districts. Today, nearly three in five residents in Kotobuki Town are aged 65 years or over.

The streets in Kotobuki Town are lined with flophouses which were built during Japan’s high economic growth period in the 1960s to accommodate day laborers. Last week, shortly after the New Year holiday period ended, a tragedy occurred in the town. On January 4, a fire broke out at one of the flophouses where around 140 people were staying. Some of them were older people in need of nursing care and others had physical disabilities.

Two persons were killed in the fire and eight were injured. The flames and smoke caused chaos in and near the building as residents, some using a wheelchair, were trying to rush outside. Witnesses said that survivors were barely able to evacuate in time and were unable to help others.

The latest fire is a reminder of a similar incident in Sapporo City a year ago. At that time, an apartment house was burnt down. Among the residents who had financial difficulties, eleven died in the fire. Four years ago, another flophouse in Yokohama’s neighboring city of Kawasaki caught fire, leaving eleven persons dead. Almost every year, sad news keep coming that isolated low-income elderly persons lost their lives because of a fire.

In the cases of Sapporo and Kawasaki, both of the buildings in question were old and wooden. Flaws in the building structure and insufficiency of emergency measures for evacuation were blamed for the deaths. In the last week’s accident, the flophouse was relatively new and barrier-free, but it was not equipped with a sprinkler system.

Many needy people have no choice but to live in low-cost accommodations with safety concerns. The measures in place to protect accommodation spaces for the elderly and the disabled are insufficient. Where to live in safety is an important concern in people’s lives. To prevent a recurrence of the tragedies will work to contribute the public peace, safety, and wellbeing.

Past related articles:
> Housing for elderly destroyed in fire [February 2, 3 & 7, 2018]
> Welfare cuts lead to fatal fire accident in Kawasaki [May 24, 2015]
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