The Yomiuri ShimbunSix years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.
The nation has committed to continuing support until areas devastated by the disaster fully achieve their revitalization. A renewal of this commitment is urged.
The “Concentrated Reconstruction Period,” the first five years of a government-set time frame for reconstruction, ended last fiscal year. The government has set a period from this fiscal year to fiscal 2020 as the “Reconstruction and Revitalization Period.” The first year of this period is coming to an end.
Efforts will be made to help the affected areas stand on their own and achieve reconstruction that can be a model for regional revitalization. This is how the government has explained its new five-year goal.
Progress on housing
During the “Concentrated Reconstruction Period,” in which all the budgets for reconstruction efforts were covered by the central government, project plans tended to be extravagant. The budgets will be scaled down in the future. After scrutiny of projects, the budgets should be allocated to those that are truly valuable. Support is needed in order of priority.
Massive tsunami, which hit mainly Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, deprived people in coastal areas of their homes. The completion rate of public housing planned to restore stable living conditions for such people is expected to reach 83 percent as of the end of this month. Nearly 70 percent of work to develop land for group relocation, including moving collective housing to higher ground, is also set to be completed.
It can be said the process of revitalizing the foundation of people’s lives has passed a critical point.
It is the task of the government, including the Reconstruction Agency, to draw up a specific road map for reconstruction and revitalization and give the affected areas a push to move on.
In the middle of a town about four kilometers south of JR Sendai Station lies an expanse of 24,000 square meters of vacant land. Sendai’s largest temporary housing facility stood there, but demolition work on it started last October. The land was then returned to its owners in February this year.
Work to dismantle prefabricated temporary housing facilities is under way elsewhere in the three prefectures. The number of people living in the facilities peaked at nearly 120,000, but has fallen to about 35,000. The landscape without the small temporary housing facilities can be seen as a testament to reconstruction.
However, community-building efforts have not necessarily seen major progress in public housing facilities and other locations where evacuees relocated.
In temporary housing facilities, the local governments have teamed up with nonprofit organizations and other private-sector groups to facilitate interaction among residents. Some groups extend shopping support to the elderly and others in need. One disaster victim who lives in Iwate Prefecture said that the absence of such support was evident after moving from a temporary housing facility.
The Reconstruction Agency has been emphasizing the method of cooperating with NPOs and other groups on a priority basis. The agency is called on to utilize such organizations proactively to prevent residents from being isolated.
Create lively atmosphere
Naturally, rebuilding homes has not been proceeding smoothly in all disaster-affected areas. Nearly 20 percent of the population of the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, is still being forced to live in inconvenient temporary housing facilities.
Reconstruction, it can be said, has entered a stage in which efforts must be made to carry out more meticulous assistance measures that correspond to the progress being made.
Relevant municipalities are faced with an outflow of residents. Overcoming the issue is the key to regional revitalization.
Land for housing has been developed at three locations in the town of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, including near a new station of the relocated JR Joban Line. A ceremony to inaugurate a renewed town was held last October. The Joban Line resumed operations two months later, enabling residents to commute to and from Sendai.
The town publicizes itself as a convenient place to raise children. The municipality has adopted a policy of providing financial assistance of up to ¥3 million to newly married couples who move to the town to encourage them to reside there permanently.
About 740 residential land lots and public housing for disaster victims have almost been filled.
Even in the town of Yamamoto, where reconstruction seems to be progressing smoothly, the number of residential lots for sale in one residential zone has been cut to one-fifth of the planned figure. In terms of the entire disaster-stricken area, the number of houses planned for collective relocation has been dwindling in line with the drop in the number of applicants.
How can towns that have downsized enhance their appeal? Individual municipalities must create innovative blueprints for reconstruction.
It is encouraging to see that Minamisanriku Sun Sun Shopping Village, a temporary shopping street in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, has been reborn as a permanent shopping street.
But such examples remain rare. One reason is the shortage of buildings for rent, which has arisen because housing reconstruction has been prioritized over the reconstruction of commercial areas.
A lively atmosphere is essential for creating an appealing town.
Care for children
Long-term reconstruction efforts require the energy of young people. The increasing number of elementary and junior high school students who are not attending classes is thus a matter of concern.
There were 1,862 such students last academic year, an increase for the fourth straight year. In some cases, the students sense the instability of life as an evacuee and the confusion suffered by their families, despite having no clear memories of the 2011 disaster they experienced when they were younger.
Expert mental care must continue to be provided for these students.
Given the extensive lifting of evacuation directives issued in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, Fukushima Prefecture faces a critical moment. Assistance must be bolstered for the benefit of children, too.