The Japanese earthquake of 11 March, along with the tsunami that followed close behind, is said to have left more than 21,000 people dead or missing. This number is rising steadily and police believe that a further 15,000 people were killed in Miyagi prefecture, which was in a direct line of the tsunami.
The cost to the beleaguered Japanese economy is already some US$250 million, making it the world’s most costly disaster of all time.
As if this were not enough, 150 miles north of Tokyo the major Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility suddenly found itself without the necessary electric power to work the pumps to cool its six reactors. The consequent overheating triggered off the world’s most serious nuclear crisis since the Chemobyl disaster 25 years ago.
Engineers have spent the last ten days in great danger spraying the fuel rods with thousands of tonnes of seawater in an effort to prevent them from overheating and emitting more radiation. Now they have managed to rig power cables to all six reactors in the complex and have started a water pump at one of them.
According to Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, although the nuclear situation still remains serious, he is confident the difficulties will be overcome.
But the big 'but' is the mounting concern about the amount of radioactive material that was released into the atmosphere, contaminating food and water supplies. Reuters reported that Peter Cordingley, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that contamination was far more widespread than had originally been thought.
he original thought that contamination would be confined within an area of approximately 20 to 30 kilometres, proved to be too optimistic.
It is reasonable to assume, he said, that contaminated food has already got out of the contamination zone, although there was no suggestion that any had reached other countries.
This may be the case, but China has already begun testing Japanese food imports for radiation contamination and according to Bloomberg, stores and restaurants throughout Asia have halted their sales of Japanese foods.
The full picture is still emerging. The Japanese Health Ministry issued an order for people to stop drinking tap water after high levels of radioactive iodine had been detected in a village near to the plant. Tests of tap water in Tokyo have tested positive for iodine and cesium. Radioactive material has also been detected in rain and dust in Tokyo.
Officials have assured people that where milk and vegetables have been contaminated, levels of contamination were not serious, but the Government has now banned the sale of spinach and raw milk in the Fukushima prefecture.
The Associated Press reports that WHO is calling on Japan to do more to reassure the public about food safety. The trouble is that the Japanese people have reached the point of not knowing who to believe and whom they can trust.
Meanwhile in many areas food, water, medicine and fuel continue to be in short supply.