Reconstruction efforts lagging

More than 21 months have passed since the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the Pacific coastal areas of the Tohoku region. The central government and citizens outside the disaster-hit areas should remember that the lives of many victims remain shattered and that the reconstruction of local economies is far from finished.

Merely accelerating the speed of reconstruction will not be enough. It must also meet the needs of local residents and municipal governments. It appears that construction of roads, ports, river banks, etc., is proceeding on schedule. But progress is slow in projects directly related to aiding local residents affected by the tsunami, such as relocating them to highland areas or constructing public housing for them.

There are calls for moving the head office of the Reconstruction Agency to the Tohoku region and for more spending on reconstruction. These steps won’t necessarily improve the situation. Municipal governments concerned often lack the personnel and know-how needed to carry out reconstruction-related work.

The central government and local governments outside the disaster-hit areas should send personnel to municipal governments in those areas to help them with reconstruction-related work. The central and prefectural governments should also play active roles in reconstruction projects that are beyond the capabilities of municipal governments. One example is securing a sufficient number of doctors, nurses and nursing care workers and setting up “comprehensive care centers” in which medical organizations and municipal governments cooperate in areas where new housing for disaster victims has been constructed.

Agriculture and fisheries in the disaster-hit areas have recovered to some extent. But few enterprises want to establish new business bases in those areas. There is a mismatch in desire and approaches between enterprises and hosting municipalities. The central and prefectural governments can play a helpful role in eliminating this problem and finding enterprises willing to set up new businesses in areas affected by the disasters.

In areas of Fukushima Prefecture directly affected by the nuclear catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, compensation payments to victims should be speeded up, as should efforts to decontaminate areas and revise evacuation zones. The central government should quickly choose the location of an interim storage facility for contaminated soil removed through decontamination efforts. It should also present a plan for reconstructing affected communities.

Tohoku’s disaster-hit areas are suffering a rapid outflow of young people due to a lack of employment opportunities. The central and prefectural governments should strive to create job opportunities in the region. They must remember that repairing infrastructure is only one part of reconstruction.