The government has started the work to draw up a grand design for reconstruction of Japan from the March 11 quake and tsunami. But it also must focus on helping disaster victims to put their lives back together. The most pressing priority should be the rebuilding of residences. According to the National Police Agency, some 80,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.

Following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, a fund was created to provide up to ¥3 million to families that have lost their homes in natural disasters. The central and prefectural governments each bankroll half of the fund. As of the end of March 2010, however, the fund contained just ¥53.8 billion — far too small an amount to cope with the vast destruction of 3/11.

In the wake of the Kobe quake, the central government was reluctant to directly assist quake victims in the rebuilding of their homes, but in 1998 the Diet passed a law to create the fund. At first, the maximum assistance was ¥1 million and use of the money was limited to buying household goods. The amount was raised to ¥3 million in 2004 and the restriction on the money’s use was lifted.

By the end of January, some ¥24 billion had been paid to some 18,000 families that had sustained property damage in 40 natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. But the money is provided only when certain conditions are met. It is given only to residents of a municipality in which 10 or more houses have been destroyed. Owners of houses that have not been badly damaged are not eligible for the money. To receive support, home owners must endure a time-consuming administrative process.

Given the horrific degree of damage caused by the 3/11 disasters, it is clear that the amount of money provided must be increased and that the administrative procedure should be streamlined to enable those who require financial assistance to receive it as quickly as possible. The central government should increase the percentage of the fund that it pays. It should also consider how to mesh assistance to disaster victims with its grand reconstruction scheme.

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