Worsening sanitary conditions and rising temperatures are now the most urgent problems facing thousands of Tohoku evacuees still living in shelters, reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano said Thursday.
“I want to seek cooperation between the central and local governments to support survivors by asking them to provide electric fans, insecticides and screen doors,” said Hirano, who replaced his predecessor, Ryu Matsumoto, on July 6.
Hirano also said that in the long term, “The revival of fisheries, active use of forestry resources, tourism promotion and planning cities with good welfare services for the aging society” are crucial to restoring Tohoku’s economy.
Hirano, a 57-year-old Upper House lawmaker, was previously Matsumoto’s deputy and has been a key member of the government’s team to restore disaster-hit communities.
Although four months have passed since the March 11 disaster, 35,708 people are still living in 1,041 shelters in the worst-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, according to the National Police Agency.
The evacuees are living mostly in schools, community centers and other public facilities that lack air conditioning. As huge amounts of debris, garbage and rotting fish have yet to be cleared away, coastal areas have become infested with flies amid the summer heat.
Hirano, who was born and raised in Iwate Prefecture, also said securing employment is crucial. “The restart of fisheries will revive the local economy,” he said. “I hope to support company owners and employees who survived the disaster as much as possible.”
Responding to a question on whether Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s staying in power has hindered cooperation with opposition parties to restore Tohoku, Hirano said: “The situation where so much time is spent discussing when Kan will quit must be changed. . . . I believe he will take action to resolve the situation.”
Hirano, a former farm ministry bureaucrat, won his first Diet seat in 2001 as a member of the now-defunct Liberal Party, then headed by Democratic Party of Japan strongman Ichiro Ozawa, also an Iwate native.