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A bill to offer public assistance to victims of natural disasters passed the Diet on Friday with the support of all non-Communist parties.

Enactment of the measure means public financial aid will be granted to survivors of disasters, including earthquakes and floods, for the first time.

Under the new legislation, prompted by survivors of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and their supporters, up to 1 million yen in public assistance will be provided to people whose houses are destroyed by natural disasters, beginning in April 1999.

Although the law will not be retroactive, the Diet adopted a resolution urging the government to provide Hanshin quake victims with financial support equivalent to amounts that will be allocated to survivors of future disasters.

The devastating Kobe quake killed more than 6,400 people.

The law changes the government’s long-held policy on disaster relief, in which the state provided disaster victims with commodities and low-interest loans under the Disaster Relief Law, enacted in 1972.

The new law is applicable to victims of a disaster in which more than 100 homes in a single prefecture or more than 10 homes in a single municipality are destroyed. Each household whose residence is destroyed by a natural disaster will receive up to 1 million yen in public assistance if the household’s annual income is less than 5 million yen.

Up to 500,000 yen can be claimed if the head of the household is at least 60 years old and the household’s annual income is less than 8 million yen. The same amount of aid will be provided if the head of the household is at least 45 years of age and the household’s annual income is less than 7 million yen.

The central government and prefectural governments will share the cost equally.

The Japanese Communist Party, which suggested providing up to 5 million yen per household, voted against the bill, saying the amount of assistance stipulated will not be sufficient for households to restore the foundations of their lives.

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