Getting post-disaster reconstruction efforts onto a steady track is a great task for Japan this year. We should consider the new year as “the first year of full-scale reconstruction” from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The March 11 quake and tsunami left many people bereft of their loved ones and deprived of their longtime homes, while also severing communities’ life-sustaining ties of mutual support.
The number of people who were forced to evacuate, and saw out the old year while living in temporary housing or staying with relatives, exceeded 300,000.
The government must establish a system to support the disaster-hit areas as much as possible, steadily implementing efforts to help victims rebuild their daily lives and help the affected areas reconstruct themselves.
The government included 3.78 trillion yen in the special account for post-disaster reconstruction in the fiscal 2012 draft budget. When this is added to similar funds included in the three supplementary budgets already implemented for fiscal 2011, the total sum tops 18 trillion yen, coming close to the 19 trillion yen initially estimated for the first five years following the disaster.
This can be taken to show the government’s intention to do its utmost in post-disaster reconstruction efforts. What is important is to spend the budget effectively.
The reconstruction agency, to be launched in February, will serve as a control tower for reconstruction of affected areas.
The agency will submit a collective request for the government’s reconstruction-related budget, and then allocate it among the relevant ministries. It will also bring together and supervise reconstruction projects as a whole.
Its local bureaus to be set up in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures will deal with various requests from local governments affected by the disaster.
We hope the agency will exercise these functions fully and promote the reconstruction projects smoothly.
Among the affected local governments, there is strong discontent with the central government’s slow responses in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. It is important for the organizations concerned to take needed action promptly.
The most urgent task is the disposal of debris, a stumbling block to reconstruction.
Shortly after the disaster, a massive amount of debris in the form of building materials from houses destroyed by the tsunami was scattered widely over parts of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. But now almost all of this debris has been cleared away.
However, this only means it was transferred to makeshift storage sites, with little progress made toward ultimate disposal, such as incineration. The amount of wreckage far exceeds what the affected municipalities can handle.
The Tokyo metropolitan government is undertaking the disposal of debris from municipalities including the city of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture. Using such efforts as a model, waste disposal efforts should be expanded over a much wider area.
The debris collected from Fukushima Prefecture is to be disposed of by the central government within the prefecture, since the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant left the debris seriously contaminated with radioactivity.
To realize the eventual return home of residents who were forced to evacuate either within or outside Fukushima Prefecture, it is necessary to steadily dispose of contaminated debris.
On Dec. 16, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared the nuclear crisis at the plant itself has been settled with the reactors in a stable state of cold shutdown. He also said, “We haven’t finished dealing with the accident yet.” Among the issues that remain is how to clean up tracts of land contaminated by radiation, an effort deemed vital for affected people to rebuild their daily lives.
The decontamination of areas in the no-entry zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the power plant and those in the expanded evacuation zone that extends to the northwest will be carried out by the Environment Ministry.
Meanwhile, city, town and village governments are responsible for decontaminating other areas with high levels of contamination, with the central government shouldering the expenses. Subject to such decontamination are 102 cities, towns and villages in the three prefectures in the Tohoku region, plus five prefectures in the Kanto region ― Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba.
Extensive decontamination work is needed, encompassing the removal of topsoil, cleansing building exteriors and pruning trees. This is a task that neither the local governments nor the central government have ever dealt with before.
It has been reported that when Self-Defense Forces personnel decontaminated some areas around a local municipal office near the crisis-hit plant with high-pressure washers, the aerial dose of radioactivity in the area declined by as much as 78 percent.
Such data and know-how must be shared among municipalities in need of decontamination so the work can be carried out effectively and efficiently.
It is also vital for the government to soon start building an intermediate storage facility to store for a long time the radioactivity-contaminated soil and other waste collected in Fukushima Prefecture.
In the tsunami-devastated municipalities, efforts to rebuild communities have started moving step by step.
Yet, they face a mountain of difficult problems. For instance, there is a district where residents’ opinions are split over the issue of whether the community should relocate as a whole to higher ground or rebuild on the same land where it once stood. There is also the issue of how to secure a tract of land where such a collective relocation could be possible.
Local municipal governments should draw up detailed plans for each district, including how they could withstand a future tsunami, fully taking into account the intentions of residents.
Also urgently needed is support for those who lost their jobs as their workplaces were lost in the disaster. It has been reported that many people are complaining about their mental condition, apparently due to anxiety about their uncertain future.
Rejuvenating industries and securing jobs in these affected areas are important goals. To rebuild the fishing industry ― a keystone of the regional economy ― fishing ports must quickly be restored.
The special reconstruction zone system, under which newly established companies will be exempted from paying corporate tax for five years, needs to be utilized to attract new businesses to the areas.
The reconstruction effort will also be boosted by the government’s schemes of encouraging medical institutions with leading-edge medical care and related industries to cluster in Fukushima Prefecture or having a key research and development base on renewable energy established there.
Helping the affected areas become more developed than before is important, as the rejuvenation of the Tohoku region should lead to the economic growth of the entire nation.