Along with police officers, firefighters and members of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. armed forces, municipal workers are playing a vital role in helping and supporting people who have lost their property or family members in the March 11 massive earthquake and tsunami.

A significant number of these workers themselves have been directly affected by the disasters, losing their property, family members or colleagues. Many of the 35 municipal workers of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, 30 to 40 municipal workers of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, and 70 to 80 of some 300 municipal workers of Rikuzen Takada, Iwate Prefecture, went missing. The mayor of Otsuchi was confirmed dead.

In difficult conditions, municipal workers in northeastern Japan are doing such work as supplying food, water, blankets and other articles to evacuees, burying those killed by the disasters and restoring family and resident registries. Without their help, volunteers cannot work efficiently.

The duties municipal workers have to fulfill will expand. They will have to provide prefabricated houses to local residents affected by the disasters, help people who are moving to other areas with administrative procedures, including children who will have to attend new schools, and assist people who will have to find new jobs. They also will have to negotiate with the central and prefectural governments. Their work of helping local residents hit by the disasters will continue for a long time.

Among the residents who need their help are those who live near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and have been forced to leave their homes.

Municipal workers are very likely suffering from fatigue. A sufficient number of municipal workers from areas not affected by the March 11 disasters should be quickly sent to affected areas to provide assistance.

Some public servants have been criticized for being too inefficient or placing too much emphasis on red tape. But the March 11 disasters highlight the vital role played by the public sector. The current trend of reducing the number of municipal workers to improve financial efficiency risks could negatively impact the functions of local governments in emergencies.

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