Improve reconstruction efforts

One year has passed since the Reconstruction Agency was established (Feb. 10, 2012) to help accelerate the reconstruction of areas hit by the massive quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. As of Jan. 17, a reported 316,353 disaster victims, including those affected by the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, still cannot return to their homes. Current efforts are clearly insufficient and must be stepped up.

Many disaster victims, especially those near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, are having trouble rebuilding their lives and planning their futures. Merely rebuilding infrastructure is not enough; the agency must take measures to stabilize the lives of these citizens, who have already suffered far too much.

The Abe administration has increased the budget for 3/11-related reconstruction from the ¥19 trillion set by the Democratic Party of Japan government to ¥25 trillion, for a five-year period starting from fiscal 2011. The administration must take utmost care to prevent these funds from being used for purposes unrelated to reconstruction and disaster prevention in the areas affected by the 3/11 disasters.

In Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, major infrastructure and public services have been almost restored. Preparations for relocating residents to safer areas are being made for more than 80 percent of the planned areas. But local governments are suffering from shortages of civil servants capable of designing relocation projects and overseeing their execution. The Reconstruction Agency should dispatch civil servants to bolster the manpower at local governments and help them obtain the necessary construction materials and workers.

The government must pay serious attention to the rapid population outflow from disaster areas. Unless it is staunched, it will be meaningless to rebuild infrastructure. It is imperative that the Reconstruction Agency create employment opportunities in these areas so that local residents can remain.

Although most large enterprises in the affected areas have restarted business operations, only 60 to 70 percent of the fishing-related facilities and about 40 percent of the agricultural areas have been restored. Reconstruction projects have created new employment opportunities, but such jobs are expected to disappear once the projects are completed. Therefore the agency should help to quickly restore fishing-related facilities and agricultural land, and find enterprises that are willing to start businesses in disaster areas. To this end, the agency should increase subsidies for such companies.

On Feb. 1, the government established the Fukushima reconstruction and resuscitation headquarters with some 70 workers in Fukushima City by integrating the Fukushima Reconstruction Bureau to push infrastructure construction, the Fukushima environment resuscitation office to decontaminate areas contaminated with radioactive substances from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and the local nuclear disaster countermeasure headquarters to review zoning of the no- man’s land around the nuclear power plant.

The new bureau should quickly work out measures to lay the foundations for local people’s future lives by carefully listening to their opinions with regard to critical issues such as the rebuilding of communities and the location of an interim facility for storing contaminated soil removed during the cleanup process.