The west coast of Northern Japan was hit by heavy blizzards over the weekend, with snow reaching a record high of 5.29 meters. Meanwhile, the death toll around the nation, as of February 24, from this season’s heavy winter has hit 67, while 444 have been badly wounded, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA).
Of the 67 deaths, 52 were citizens aged 65 and older. Elderly citizens are at a higher risk, since the areas with the heaviest snowfall have aging populations. In 2010, 29.2% of residents in the designated areas were aged 65 and over, 6.4 points higher than the national average. 43 of the reported deaths occurred during snow removal. In the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 winters, many of the deaths were also from snow removal. Takeshi Sato, head of the Snow and Ice Research Center at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, says that the increasingly aging population in Japan and the rise in nuclear families have led to a situation where the elderly themselves have to do dangerous snow removal.
To deal with this issue, more municipalities are introducing programs where the community can provide snow removal assistance to the senior citizens. The government of Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, for example, has allocated around $1,065 in subsidies to communities that help out the elderly in snow removal. Sato emphasized, “A system that allows support from the whole of society is needed.”