Aid needed outstrips manpower

Outside help still flowing to disaster zones

JIJI

Two years after the quake-tsunami disaster, prefectural and major municipal governments across the country are continuing to support affected communities in Tohoku with personnel on a large scale, a survey has found.

At the end of January, 944 officials from 42 prefectures and 19 municipalities designated as major cities were working for local governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the three northeastern prefectures hit hardest by the March 2011 catastrophe, the poll showed.

Nearly half of them, or 450, are civil and construction engineering experts, according to the survey, which covered all 47 prefectures and 20 major cities other than the three disaster-devastated prefectures and Sendai. Responses were submitted from all the prefectural and local governments surveyed.

Despite the support, many municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima are experiencing serious manpower shortages. Yet many of the contributors are finding it difficult to increase their assistance, and calls for state support are mounting.

“We have our limits,” an official at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.

Of the 944 relief officials, 744 were dispatched from prefectures and 200 from big cities. They included 371 civil engineering experts, the biggest group, followed by 238 administrative clerks and 79 construction experts.

Those sent to Tohoku include former municipal officials and people from the private sector hired on fixed-term contracts, although their number is low, at 58. They were employed by Tokyo, Chiba and Hyogo prefectures, as well as the cities of Osaka and Okayama.

Hyogo Prefecture and Osaka plan to recruit more, while Kagawa Prefecture and the city of Kumamoto are considering using the special fixed-term employment system for manpower support. No other prefectures or cities intend to follow suit, however.

In the survey, 14 prefectures and three cities said it is difficult to secure officials to send to disaster-hit areas while cutting payrolls as part of administrative reforms. The prefectures included Hokkaido, Aomori, Tochigi, Toyama, Mie, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the three cities were Sapporo, Niigata and Kobe.

Meanwhile, the prefectures of Nagano and Nagasaki will hire temporary staff for their own offices in fiscal 2013, which starts April 1, to cover personnel shortages caused by the manpower aid.

The survey also found that some responding municipalities expressed concern about the impact of the public works spending hike decided on by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government. The Hokkaido Prefectural Government, for instance, said it is “struggling to come up with a solution” to tackle an expected sharp increase in workload in fiscal 2013 due to the planned massive public works outlay.

“How to secure relief personnel (for disaster areas) will be a challenge,” Hyogo Prefecture said, also predicting an increased workload in the next fiscal year.

Saitama Prefecture proposed that the central government directly hire people as temporary relief personnel and dispatch them to areas wrecked by the 3/11 calamities. In a similar proposal, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said the state should hold special national public service examinations nationwide to hire people to be sent to disaster-affected municipalities.

With manpower support now a long-term project, securing the physical and mental health of relief officials dispatched to work in unfamiliar environments has grown even more important.

In January, a relief official committed suicide in Iwate Prefecture. The official’s main job was negotiations with landowners for local land readjustments related to postdisaster reconstruction, which even among locals is regarded as a tough assignment.

Of the respondents, 38 prefectures and 18 cities said they have taken steps to care for the physical and mental well-being of officials sent to disaster areas, the survey showed.