Photo via Wikimedia Commons
In a new paper, Northeastern expert Daniel Aldrich and co-authors Keiko Iwasaki and Yasuyuki Sawada explore the role of social capital in maintaining mental health among residents forced to leave their homes due to radioactive contamination after the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.
Published in October 2017 in Natural Hazards, Social capital as a shield against anxiety among displaced residents from Fukushima investigates the factors that could help reduce some of the mental strain and anxiety generated by surviving a nuclear plant meltdown. The authors conducted original surveys of Futaba residents, and found the level of stress captured by the Kessler index to be unusually high compared with people across Japan and with those who were displaced because of the earthquake and/or tsunami, but not the nuclear catastrophe.
“We focused on Futaba residents because we had a personal relationship with the mayor who allowed us to use his monthly mailings as a vehicle for getting our survey out to the whole population,” professor Aldrich said. “We found that social ties—especially the number of friends that one is still in contact with after evacuating—are a critical predictor of reduced mental strain in a way that health and wealth are not.”
This reinforced the authors’ belief that social ties and social infrastructure, more than physical infrastructure, serve as a critical engine for recovery after crisis. The trio said they hope that survivors, NGOs focused on disaster, and disaster managers will benefit from their research, which provides concrete recommendations to increase resilience among affected residents by strengthening social ties.
“We had recognized that after past disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, survivors themselves often had wounds that weren’t physical,” said Aldrich. “Nuclear power plant meltdowns bring a series of concerns including worries about health, livelihood, and returning to one’s home.”
This summer Aldrich will take 20 Northeastern students to Fukushima and Tohoku to show them the disaster and recovery process, and to meet with survivors.
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