As tremors continue in Kumamoto and neighbouring prefectures, concerns have arisen regarding life with young children in evacuation centres. Childcare support groups and those with experience of the Great Hanshin Earthquake are calling for people to check their preparations for such emergencies at home.
The Kumamoto midwives association in Kumamoto Prefecture is providing support to families with children in the city of Kumamoto and town of Mashiki who were affected by the earthquake. According to Kyoko Sakanashi, who chairs the association, some mothers are unable to produce breast milk due to the stress of living in evacuation shelters and there are babies who get rashes on their bottoms because water shortages make proper bathing difficult. Sakanashi recommends that mothers wipe their babies' bodies down with wet towels and wash only their babies' bottoms in a simple bath of tepid water in a container.
Tsunemi Shibata, chairwoman of Kosodate Danwashitsu, a nonprofit organisation active primarily in the Kamimashiki region of the prefecture, says that "due to water outages, there is not even enough water to make formula and parents are struggling to secure water." She adds, "Formula cans are bothersome to measure with and are difficult to carry around due to their weight. The lighter stick or cube type packets are more convenient."
Emergency preparations are important even outside of disaster-affected areas. Keiko Hamasuna, managing director of Frau, a Fukuoka-based firm that publishes an information magazine on childcare support, advised preparing an emergency evacuation bag with items such as a flashlight and portable radio, as well as upgrading the contents of one's "mom bag," which is used when going out with small children for everyday activities.
Hamasuna posted an emergency supply checklist from the magazine's January issue on Facebook on April 16 and is calling for families with children to make use of it.
It is good to prepare a lot of diapers, and also to have hand towels to substitute for diapers in case they run out. A simple diaper can be improvised by putting a hand towel against a baby's bottom then covering and tying it up with a plastic bag.
As there is the possibility that people using contact lenses will be unable to properly clean them in emergency situations, glasses should also be put into the emergency bag. If you have your health insurance card and a maternity health record book that has a record of your child's medical history along with your own, then "they can be relied on even if a sudden disaster were to strike while you're out of the house," said Hamasuna.
Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun
She added: "If children are left watching TV coverage of the disaster, they may suffer from anxiety and cry at night more often. Therefore, it is important to have ways to calm them down such as by reading picture books aloud to them."
Confirm childcare preparations
If there are multiple young children in a household, it can be difficult to evacuate everyone together. Hiroko Sakamoto from Kobe, who survived the Great Hanshin Earthquake and is working to educate people on disaster prevention, recommends carrying a baby on your front and another child on your back if you need to flee. "If close physical contact is not maintained, they can easily become separated. When parents feel like they have reached the limits of their physical endurance, they should ask for help from those around them and someone will surely come to assist," she said.
If an earthquake strikes when children are at nursery school or kindergarten, Sakamoto said, "Don't panic, and go pick them up after calming yourself." Nursery and kindergarten staff are supposed to respond to the emergency by taking children to appropriate places for evacuation. If you rush, there is the risk of getting yourself into dangerous situations along the way.
Risu Ando, who works on disaster preparation activities geared toward mothers, says it is important for parents to confirm how the day care centre or kindergarten plans to provide them with information on their children's safety in the event of an emergency.
Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, day care centres and kindergartens have prepared systems to communicate with parents, through means such as sending e-mails to their mobile phones with information on the safety of their children, updates on their websites, and the use of disaster message board services provided by telecommunication carriers.
Ando said that "once parents have confirmed the safety of their children, they should refrain from contacting the day care centre or kindergarten by phone or other means," as the protection of children should be the facility's priority. Once your child's safety has been confirmed, go pick them up at a predetermined location such as an evacuation shelter.
"It can be reassuring to have an acquaintance you trust with your children in the neighborhood. Therefore, it is a good idea to create a network of friends early on," said Ando.
Midwives group offering support
The Japanese Midwives Association is offering consultations on child rearing and other aspects of life to those affected by the disaster. The association accepts calls at (03) 3866-3054 on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and the Kumamoto midwives association accepts calls at (096) 325-9432 on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
According to Keiko Kasai, a managing director of the JMA: "Infants and young children are susceptible to emotional stress caused by aftershocks. Hug them, bond with them through physical contact, and sleep alongside them to relieve their stress."