A year on, no tsunami-hit community has clear plan to move to high ground

Kyodo

Despite government efforts to relocate households inland or to higher ground following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, none of the affected municipalities has drawn up the necessary plans, a Kyodo News tally showed Wednesday.

In November, the central government introduced expanded measures to cover all project expenses. But local authorities are struggling to make progress amid hurdles including staff shortages, geographical constraints such as the lack of suitable highland for building homes, and difficulty in building consensus among residents.

Although the city most affected by flooding, Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where 73 sq. km was inundated, has 63 candidate sites to relocate about 6,900 homes, most of the sites lack habitable flatland, which means mountains would have to be leveled in a vast construction project estimated to cost the city about ¥100 billion, a top Ishinomaki official said.

Winning over residents remains another headache for local officials. In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, where about 3,500 homes were destroyed, 20 to 30 percent of residents surveyed have yet to indicate whether they hope to relocate.

“I guess it is difficult to talk about having a new home when one doesn’t even have a job,” a senior Rikuzentakata official said.