Today Japan marks the second anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Pacific coastal areas of the Tohoku region. In the disasters, more than 18,500 people were killed or went missing. It is a time to pray for the souls of these people.
Many survivors are still struggling with the scars of the disasters — emotional, financial and otherwise — as they try to restart their lives. Some 315,000 people are still forced to live away from their homes, including more than 150,000 people who had to evacuate because of radiation risks associated with the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe.
The Abe administration has decided to increase overall spending for reconstruction of areas hit by the 3/11 disasters from ¥19 trillion to ¥25 trillion. But the increase does not automatically ensure that reconstruction will be carried out in a manner that truly enhances the well-being of disaster victims.
Politicians and bureaucrats must ask themselves whether they are making their best efforts to ascertain and meet the true needs of local governments and residents in disaster-hit areas.
It is worthwhile to remember the recommendations made by the now-disbanded Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, which was set up by the Kan administration. The council envisaged city, town and village governments initiating the resuscitation of their communities and industries and the central government assisting them without fail.
Unless central government bureaucrats listen to the opinions of local residents in their efforts to reconstruct communities, the residents could lose their will to rebuild their lives.
Especially with regard to plans to move residences and neighborhoods to safer highland zones, opinions of the central and local governments and local residents are likely to differ, so patient explanations and discussions are indispensable.
The central government should facilitate plans for local governments outside the disaster areas to dispatch their workers to where they’re needed most for assisting in reconstruction projects. Central government ministries also should send more of their workers to these areas.
The council had stressed the need for reconstruction efforts to add value to products from affected farms and fisheries. Since many municipalities in the disaster-hit areas are suffering population outflows, reconstruction of these industries must be hastened. But if the central government merely imposes their plans the revival of municipalities is unlikely to be successfully carried out. It is important to encourage local governments and residents to develop their own initiatives.
The central government ministries should avoid pushing reconstruction projects without inter-ministry coordination. Redundant projects will waste public money and discourage local residents, causing them to feel that the ministries are not serious about the reconstruction.
The construction of sea walls may destroy scenery, thus harming local tourist industries. Their effectiveness against tsunamis is also questionable. The central government should seriously consider how to implement the council’s idea of “reducing” the effects of a future disaster, rather than trying to prevent it from happening.