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Across the nation, 20.5% of municipalities have no officials exclusively tasked with handling disaster responses, a Kyodo News survey showed Sunday ahead of the 10th anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.

The survey also found that 14.1% of respondents have only one official for that particular responsibility, with those in charge of elections, traffic safety and other duties doubling in such roles.

The results underscored the need for local governments — despite a chronic staff shortage at their offices — to build a system to more effectively respond to calamities in the disaster-prone country.

Kyodo conducted the poll from October to December, asking city, town and village governments nationwide how many officials they deploy exclusively to handle jobs related to natural disasters, including drawing up disaster response policies and issuing evacuation orders in case of disasters.

Among 1,469 municipalities that replied, 41.5% said they have two to five such disaster officials, followed by 15.4% with six to 10 and 8.2% with 11 or more.

In contrast, 508 municipalities said they have no or only one official devoted to such duties.

While many of the respondents have three to four such officials, including those who are assigned to other duties, 82.3% said they are lacking personnel for disaster response, according to the survey.

Disaster officials typically belong to specialized departments such as for crisis management, but many small municipalities have no such department, leaving general affairs divisions to assume these duties, local governments said.

An official from the Chonan town government in Chiba Prefecture, which has no disaster specialist, said, “We have no capacity to craft various (disaster) plans and manuals.”

The central government has requested that municipalities come up with measures to better respond to disasters in the wake of the 2011 quake and tsunami that sparked a crisis involving the now-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Because the request has increased burdens on local governments, 70.8% of 957 municipalities with two or more specialists said they were running short of staff in charge of disaster risk reduction.

“We have to review plans for various disaster response cases every time frequent occurrences of disasters prompt revisions to relevant laws,” said an official from the Tatebayashi city government in Gunma Prefecture, which has nine officials dedicated to disaster tasks.

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