Tohoku’s recovery still hamstrung by manpower crunch five years after tsunami


Manpower shortages remain a big problem at Tohoku municipalities hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

As reconstruction projects progress in many places, they face stronger competition from the private sector for recruiting employees.

In addition, municipalities in other regions are finding it harder to continue personnel dispatch assistance to disaster-hit areas because their own payrolls are being shrunk by administrative reforms.

“Reconstruction is far from over, and support personnel are necessary, but the situation is not widely known,” said Kumiko Naruse, an official from the city of Saitama who was dispatched to Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture.

Forty-eight disaster-hit municipalities, mainly in tsunami-hit areas of the three Tohoku prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, needed a total of 2,752 workers as of Feb. 1 but had only received 2,473.

They hired officials on fixed-term contracts. Other municipalities and private companies from across the nation chipped in by dispatching personnel. But 279 vacancies remain, with Miyagi alone accounting for 184.

By job type, there were 171 vacancies for technical staff. Especially lacking are engineering and construction experts to restore roads and build public housing for evacuees, and nurses who can look after residents.

Openings for administrative jobs meanwhile totaled 108 as reconstruction-related operations, such as land acquisition for evacuee relocation and seawall construction took priority, leaving city administrators with manpower shortages.

Concerns are now growing that interest in the situation is fading five years on.

The five-year intensive reconstruction period designated by the central government will end this month, and be succeeded by a five-year “revival period.”

When asking other municipalities for personnel, “we sometimes get the feeling that people think reconstruction has already finished,” one prefectural official in Iwate said.

In fiscal 2016, the 48 disaster-hit municipalities will need as much personnel support as they did in February. Most of them, plus their three prefectural governments, will continue to ask for help.

But many who would like to help are already facing a higher workload from the debut of My Number, the national social security and taxation identification system.

“Some may stop personnel dispatches,” a prefectural official in Miyagi said.

Some municipalities in the disaster zone, such as Kuji in Iwate, won’t request help any longer because reconstruction is progressing.

“We’re still struggling to secure enough staff, but we can get by,” a Kuji official said.

Ishinomaki in Miyagi, which is in need of 67 workers, is asking supporting municipalities if they will continue to send help in fiscal 2016.

“Some have not made positive responses,” an Ishinomaki official said.

Municipal personnel shortages may cause rebuilding delays in some areas, observers said.