1-Daily Blog Post

Minamata Unit 2015: Wrapping up

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 5, 2015

Today is the last day of our field exercise. We reported our progress on group projects- blog, game and video. The group working on the daily blog (which you are reading now) reported on the knowledge and insights gained from the exercise. Explanatory diagrams made by extrapolating information from the book “The Science Behind Minamata Disease” were explained. Reflections shared in the daily posts were summarized. The group is planning to reorganize the blog posts under a logical theme aside from the present chronological order. It was suggested that the blog would have a comments section to which the group agreed.

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Stories Behind Numbers

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 4, 2015

Usually, when a disaster is tackled, quantitative measures are being used to describe its impact- from mortality rates to financial loss. However, the picture is fully painted when qualitative measures are included. This objective was fulfilled this morning when our group was privileged enough to hear a first-hand account from a patient bearing the Minamata disease. When he was yong, he started experiencing weird tingling sensations and uncontrollable movements from his body. He was then diagnosed with “Strange Disease”- the term adopted for the combination of symptoms observed to be prevalent in Minamata at that time. Doctors were not sure yet of the pathophysiology of the disease hence the vague term. The disease not only affected patients physically but also psychologically. He had difficulty achieving rapport with his co-workers as well as meeting a lady for marriage. They all had reservations with approaching him due to the unsupported fear that his disease might be contagious.

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Minamata Disease: Different Perspectives

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 3, 2015

Why the disease only happened in Minamata but not in a factory elsewhere?

We did not go out of the hotel today but it was still a productive day. We got to listen to three vital sectors involved in the Minamata Disease issue. First was the government, who was represented by Mr. Yoshito Tanaka- the Director of the Kumamoto Prefectural Government’s Division of Minamata Disease. Having a division itself solely focused on the issue denotes how it is of importance to the government. Mr. Tanaka cited three major reasons as to why the issues revolving around Minamata Disease are difficult to solve. One is the non-specificity of disease’s symptoms, another is the discrimination on the patients and last, the differing demands on the compensation scheme- for which the government has lent Chisso Corporation with 200 billion yen to avoid its bankruptcy. Mr. Tanaka admitted that due to the immense economic contribution of the company, it has largely influenced the government’s actions on this issue. f Minamata Diseas

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The scientific answers to Chisso’s challenges

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 3, 2015

After the outbreak of Minamata disease, Kumamoto University research team had suspected the contribution of Chisso’s wastewater to the causation of mercury poisoning. However, Chisso had firmly denied the accusation by posing the questions of – if it were them, then 1) why the disease only happened until year 1953 but their operations were dated back to year 1932; 2) why it only happened in Minamata but not elsewhere with the same industrial process. This blog post is intended to explain the science concisely based on the 20-year investigation of Prof. Nishimura, recorded in his book the Science of Minamata Disease.

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The Youth- the Hope of Minamata’s Future

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 2, 2015

Today is the fourth day of our field exercise. In the morning, we were privileged to hear from the Minamata Disease Victims’ Mutual Aid Society(水俣病被害者患者互助会). Their organization gathers Minamata Disease patients in their home-like office three times a week, serving as psychosocial support to the often stigmatized victims. They are currently taking care of 15 patients but they feel that there are more victims out there who could use of their assistance. They are concerned with the patients’ future and how they would be able to do their daily functions as many of them are growing old alone. The organization feels that the disease should be emphasized as a public health issue with it growing into a social issue. Aside from providing healthcare, they also help victims file lawsuits for repeals of denied compensation, which often gets into a vicious cycle because once a case wins, hundreds of people tend to file new claims- most of which gets rejected.

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The Extent of Minamata

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports March 1, 2015

For the past days of this field exercise, we went to important locations throughout Minamata City. Today, we went outside of Minamata and into Amakusa City particularly by taking a boat trip to the Goshoura Island(御所浦島), which was initially not recognized as part of the areas affected with the Minamata Disease. Upon arriving, a tour guide took us to the borders of the island to show the fishes’ migratory routes and the fishermen’s hometowns to show how this could explain why methyl mercury disposed from the Chisso factory in Minamata reached surrounding islands that are tens of kilometers away.

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Getting to Know Minamata

Minamata Team 015 1-Daily Blog Post, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports February 27, 2015

To open the Minamata Resilience Exercise today, our group had a courtesy call with the governor of Kumamoto prefecture, Dr. Ikuo Kabashima (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo). In his speech, he welcomed us with equal enthusiasm that we have in knowing more about the controversial Minamata disease and the unfortunate circumstances that led to it. In behalf of his administration, he admitted the government’s responsibility in the disaster and Introduced that the national government is currently working on finalizing the guidelines for certification of the disease victims. This update was an eye-opener that the issue is far from being settled contrary to what many believe with the disaster having occurred almost five decades ago. In addition, he advied us that as future leaders, we should be able to know when and how to respond urgently especially in times of crisis. This they have shown in addressing the Avian Flu outbreak and in mitigating the effects of floods- situations highlighting how much the government has learned from its bitter experience in Minamata. However, many of us think that the agility in responding to these recent disasters was primarily because there was less politics involved with them. With no meddling of a high-earning politically well-placed company, addressing an infectious disease outbreak and a natural disaster would undoubtedly be easier. Still, we see Governor Kabashima’s point of learning from past mistakes in order for us to avoid repeating them hence the essence of this resilience exercise.

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