Welcome back to The Fixer, our weekly briefing of solutions reported elsewhere. This week: Brazilian immigrants change the fortunes of a shrinking Japanese city. Plus, a different kind of gardener restores Jamaica’s coral reefs, and island-hopping doctors treat the far-flung patients of Bangladesh.
Bem-vindo ao Japão!
Japan’s Izumo City was facing a challenge familiar to many of the country’s smaller cities and towns: an aging, shrinking population. The municipality of 175,000 was losing residents so fast that in 2011 it merged with the neighboring town of Kamogawa, but still, its future seemed in doubt.
So in 2016, Izumo launched a campaign rarely seen in insular Japan: it began encouraging foreigners to settle in the city, according to a report in Citylab. The stated goal of the “Multicultural Living Promotion Plan” was to grow the number of long-term foreign residents in Izumo City by 30 percent by 2021.
One group was targeted in particular: Portuguese speakers, a strategy designed to build on the unusual bond Japan and Brazil have enjoyed for over a century. In the early 1900s, many Japanese emigrated to more-prosperous Brazil in search of jobs. (This is why, outside of Japan, Brazil has more ethnically Japanese residents than any other country.) In the 1980s, Brazil’s economy faltered, and many of the descendents of those Japanese immigrants flocked back to now-booming Japan.
Izumo City capitalized on these ties, launching a Portuguese-language Facebook page and encouraging local employers to recruit immigrant workers from Brazil. Postings for jobs in Izumo began appearing online, written in Portuguese. The unusual nature of the outreach made it a minor viral sensation. The result? This year, the city hit its 30 percent goal, two years ahead of schedule, and Portuguese families can now be seen all over, in the city’s parks, restaurants, shops and transit system. The effort worked so well that Izumo is now expanding its Portuguese-language services to make sure the newcomers put down roots and stay for a long time, just like their grandparents did.
Coral reefs are amazing. They cover two percent of the ocean floor, yet sustain one-quarter of all marine life. And as you’ve likely heard, they’re in peril. Jamaica’s coral loss has been particularly devastating. Once home to some of the world’s most spectacular reefs, the island’s coral has been decimated by untreated waste runoff and waterborne chemicals.
Now, a grassroots movement of underwater “gardeners” is turning the tide, cultivating vast nurseries of vivid coral to restore the critical ocean habitats. In an intricate process, divers use fishing line to affix coral to the Jamaican seabed. With time, the coral, a living organism, bonds its limestone skeleton to the rocks. Over a dozen of these aquatic nurseries have been established, and the results are a heartening example of how, with a little nudge, a failing ecosystem can rebound with remarkable speed. Tropical fish that had all but vanished from Jamaica’s coastal zone now swarm the reefs, and pelicans, which feed on the fish, can be seen skimming the water for the first time in years.
“The coral are coming back, the fish are coming back,” Stuart Sandin, a marine biologist at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told the Guardian. “It’s probably some of the most vibrant coral reefs we’ve seen in Jamaica since the 1970s. When you give nature a chance, she can repair herself. It’s not too late.”
The chars of Bangladesh—low-lying islands with few public services—are home to six million people, almost none of whom have ready access to modern health care. “There are no doctors within miles” one char resident told NPR, forcing one-third of households to rely on traditional healers and alternative remedies.
A nonprofit called Teledaktar (TD) aims to fill this gap. Its volunteer boaters hop between chars in wooden skiffs, hauling basic medical equipment and laptop computers. After pulling into port, they set up temporary clinics, often using furniture borrowed from the locals. Patients can stop by to get help with specific ailments, or just a checkup. The trick is that the doctor isn’t there—physicians on the mainland are patched in via Skype to ask questions, make diagnoses and prescribe treatments. “I diagnose them through conversation,” one doctor explained.
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All told, TD has seen over 3,000 patients, about 70 percent of whom are women who are reluctant to travel to the mainland for medical care by themselves. For some, the Skype session is the first medical consultation they’ve ever had. Many seem to like it—at least 200 of these patients have engaged in follow-up treatments. “At the government hospitals, the doctors treat us very badly, but here they listen to us,” said one patient. “I can repeat myself many times and no one gets annoyed.”