The central government is coming under increasing pressure to step in and help secure more municipal workers for post-disaster reconstruction work amid serious manpower shortages in the northeast, 2½ years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Disaster-hit municipalities are struggling to hire enough skilled staff, while local governments outside the Tohoku region are finding it ever more difficult to send them additional relief workers.
According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, 1,415 relief officials from local governments across the country have been dispatched to cities, towns and villages in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the three prefectures that bore the brunt of the 2011 disasters.
In addition, tsunami-hit municipalities in Tohoku have employed a combined 330 workers on fixed-term contracts. However, they need to secure at least 300 more.
“We have managed to get more than 200 workers, including relief officials dispatched by other municipalities and fixed-term workers,” said an official in the badly affected coastal city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. “But this isn’t anywhere near enough, considering the land readjustment and collective relocation projects we have to carry out.”
The shortage of civil engineering and construction experts are particularly acute, with prefectural governments and businesses in the disaster areas also competing to secure their services.
A town official in Iwate Prefecture said engineers in general are not interested in working on fixed-term contracts. “Skilled engineers, especially those with experience of working for governments, are scooped up by prefectural and municipal governments that offer better terms,” the official said.
The situation is equally bad in local governments around Japan that have sent relief workers to the northeast and which find themselves needing to cut payrolls as part of administrative reforms.
“There is only so much we can do to send relief officials” to Tohoku, said an official in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s division for reconstruction support.
Additionally, local governments across the country will have to carry out their own public works projects for disaster prevention in the coming years, including to guard against quakes expected to occur along the Nankai Trough that stretches down the Pacific coast.
“Soon, they may become reluctant to send engineers to the disaster-hit areas,” worries an official in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture.
As for the central government, it has only served as a coordinator in securing manpower, municipalities in Tohoku say.
As of Sunday, only 96 people had been hired under a central government program to employ fixed-term workers for recovery efforts. The central government has meanwhile been lobbying companies to extend human resources support.
Securing sufficient manpower should not be left to local authorities alone, officials in disaster-hit municipalities say, and the central government should intervene in the same way it has to tackle the toxic water problem at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.