• Kyodo

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More than 30 percent of local governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures that have identified residents who need assistance in evacuating during disasters have failed to submit that information to those tasked with helping them, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures stipulates that municipal governments must compile a list of people who need additional assistance in case of disaster, including disabled and elderly residents.

While the main reason for their failure to disclose their lists is to protect private information, the effectiveness of assisting people in times of emergency has been questioned.

While the disclosure of the emergency assistance registry is not obligatory under the current law, the central government has advised that sharing the information with local welfare commissioners and community associations is necessary, even during nonemergencies.

The law was crafted after local governments failed to make use of such information when the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, likely increasing the number of victims who were unable to evacuate.

Under the personal information protection law, it is required that residents give their consent in order for local governments to disclose their personal information. Some municipal governments, such as Yokohama, have relaxed the law by enacting ordinances enabling disclosure of such information without residents’ consent.

Of 42 municipalities that were in the three hardest-hit prefectures or were designated as evacuation zones following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, 20 said they had registered the names. The remaining 22 said they have yet to complete the process.

But seven of the municipalities that have prepared the emergency registry, including Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, and Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, have not submitted the information to those tasked with helping persons needing evacuation assistance.

“We have not yet reached a consensus on how to handle private information,” an Otsuchi official said.

Meanwhile, an official in the Iitate government said it has struggled to create a support network given that many of the residents who may require assistance live in sparsely populated areas.

Still, 15 municipal governments, including Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, have been more open to providing information on their residents in need of help, giving it to organizations such as fire departments, welfare commissioners and disaster prevention groups.

But none of the local governments in the three prefectures have enacted an ordinance enabling disclosure of the information without their consent. With the exception of the government in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, all provided lists only of residents who have given their consent.

“By proving the information (to those aiding residents in need) beforehand, evacuation plans work more effectively,” said a spokesperson for the Japan Disability Forum citizens’ group. JDF is a network representing the nation’s major disability-related organizations.

“What we need the most is a change in local municipalities’ approach to the problem and their practices,” the spokesperson said.