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2011 tsunami led to spurt in suicides in Japan

Montreal News.Net - Saturday 10th March, 2012

TOKYO - Economic hardship in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to over 21 per cent spike in the number of suicides in May last year in Japan, particularly among people in their 30s, a police survey report released Friday showed.

The number of suicides in May jumped 21.2 per cent to 3,375 as compared with the same month in 2010, after staying at relatively low levels through March, according to the National Police Agency.

The survey of the aftermath impact of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan on March 11, 2011, causing a tsunami which swamped a stretch of coastline more than 500km long, was more than imagined. The emotional and economic impact lingers on.

Based on a survey of post-earthquake economic conditions, the Cabinet Office has found a clear link between increased corporate bankruptcies and drop in exports in April and May, and the sharp rise in suicides in May.

There was a sharp increase around May in the number of suicides among people in their 30s who may have been hit particularly hard by economic problems linked to the quake, the Cabinet Office said.

The number of people who are believed to have killed themselves for economic reasons also rose notably around that time, it said.

Interestingly, despite the jump in suicides post the earthquake and tsunami, overall in 2011 there was a 3.3 percent decline in suicides to a total of 30,651, the lowest in a number of years.

In 2011, health problems were found to be the cause of most suicides (14,621) where the cause had been established, the police survey showed.

Since 1998, the total suicides in the country have exceeded 30,000 a year, according to the police agency.

Based on official data collected by Kyodo News the number of deaths officially recognized as related to the twin natural disasters last year has reached 1,331 in five prefectures, exceeding the 921 recorded after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995.

Of the total, 621 of the deaths were in Fukushima, 554 in Miyagi, 133 in Iwate, 22 in Ibaraki and one in Saitama.

The total includes a large number of elderly people who died of aspiration pneumonia, as well as suicides and deaths resulting from the stress of living in evacuation shelters. The death of a man in Saitama was attributed to a power outage following the earthquake.

In an attempt to reduce deaths in future disasters, signs showing the height of last year's killer tsunami are to be set up in three northeastern prefectures, according to the infrastructure ministry.

The Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectural governments and the infrastructure ministry's Tohoku regional bureau will work on setting up signs with a uniform design near roads, sea embankments and ports to indicate the height of the March 11 tsunami at those points, officials said.

They also plan to put up signs on hills where residents fled from the tsunami and managed to survive, they said.

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