Tokyo, July 27 (Jiji Press)–Japan needs to put highly skilled and educated workers into areas hit by last year’s earthquake and tsunami to speed their reconstruction, the government said in an annual report Friday.
These areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, northern Japan, also need concentration of businesses, the white paper on the country’s economy and public finances said.
The report said that municipalities with many businesses have high productivity while added value is high in prefectures with many skilled workers.
The three prefectures have seen production, employment and consumption recovering to levels before the March 2011 disaster, but tsunami-hit coastal areas lag behind in the recovery, the report said.
The country needs to take steps such as cooperation between industries and educational institutions to help put businesses and human resources into disaster areas intensively, the report said.
MINAMISANRIKU, Miyagi Pref. — Standing conspicuously in a barren lowland in what was once the thriving harbor of Minamisanriku are the skeletal remains of the building that once housed the city’s disaster prevention office until the day monster tsunami demonstrated the awesome power of the sea.
Grim reminder: The municipal disaster prevention office in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, stripped to its frame by the March 2011 tsunami, remains a rusted hulk more than a year later. KYODO
At the site of the building, where some 40 people lost their lives on March 11, 2011, many people still lay flowers and offer prayers for the victims.
For local residents, however, the building is now a source of anxiety.
“My heart always aches at the site of it. It’s preventing us from moving forward toward reconstruction,” said a 44-year-old woman who lost her nearby home in the tsunami triggered by the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake.
The municipal government first proposed preserving the building but changed course and decided it should be torn down following requests by survivors of the twin disasters.
The building is one of many tsunami-hit structures and ships washed inland in Miyagi and Iwate that are being removed as the prefectures try to rebuild.
Experts on disaster prevention believe the hulking structures should be preserved as a legacy of the catastrophe. But local governments, taking into consideration the feelings of survivors, are pushing ahead with recovery plans that call for the buildings and ships to be demolished.
In many of the disaster-hit communities, local governments see the current fiscal year as the first real year of reconstruction. They are accelerating work to bulldoze ruined buildings and remove the ships, as their No. 1 priority is to rebuild communities.
These measures include filling in submerged low-lying land and relocating whole residential districts to higher ground.
Eight municipalities in Miyagi and Iwate are considering whether to preserve some damaged structures, but none has drawn up a specific plan.
The upkeep costs are a major concern for local officials. Maintenance of buildings requires anticorrosive treatment and quake-proof reinforcement.
The central government will fully subsidize demolition costs for the time being, but there are no explicit guidelines regarding expenses for preservation.
Local governments are worried that if demolition is delayed by a few years due to controversy over preservation, they may end up shouldering the costs of removing the buildings.
Experts on disaster prevention and city planning set up a study group in Sendai in May to make a list of structures they want to see preserved.
“If (the issue of preservation) is ignored, there will be nothing left to show future generations,” one expert said.
But changing reconstruction plans is no easy task for local governments because protracted studies on whether to keep the buildings will delay reconstruction work.
The reconstruction plan in Minamisanriku calls for destroying 36 public buildings.
“We have drawn up plans that include the use of the land vacated by the buildings,” a city officials said. “We will begin work as soon as we gain the consent of local residents and choose a demolition company.”
The demolition started with a hospital and a fire station in April, and the disaster prevention office, a fixture of the fishing port town’s flattened landscape over the past 16 months, is to be knocked down sometime in the next few months.
In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a bus left by the tsunami on the roof of a community hall in the Ogatsu district was taken away in March.
A 47-year-old woman who runs a shop in the neighborhood initially welcomed the removal.
“The mere sight (of the bus) put me off,” she said at the time.
However, she has been wondering recently if it was the right decision.
“We can no longer put it back the way it was,” she said. “I think we should probably have preserved it to learn the lessons of disaster preparedness for the future.”
The municipal government of Kesennuma, another tsunami-wrecked port city in Miyagi Prefecture, has embraced preservation in its plans for reconstruction.
A giant 330-ton trawler stranded some 900 meters inland from the Pacific is expected to be the centerpiece of a disaster memorial park.
The city signed a lease with the ship’s owner in June 2011 and has since started planning the park, which will be dedicated to raising awareness of disaster preparedness.
In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Yuki Matsumoto, 55, hopes his tsunami-engulfed hotel in the coastal city’s Taro district will be kept as a monument.
The six-story hotel was submerged to the fourth floor and nothing but the bare iron frame remains.
Before the March 2011 catastrophe, Matsumoto had been told by his elders about past tsunami disasters that had laid waste to coastal areas of Iwate.
“I had no other way than to picture for myself what I heard. We need something that can show the horrors (of tsunami) clearly,” Matsumoto said.
He has proposed preserving the hotel to the municipal government and the two sides are holding talks.
Arata Hirakawa, director of Tohoku University’s International Research Institute of Disaster Science, is calling for a review on how best the experiences of calamities can be handed down for posterity.
Local governments “should take time to discuss with disaster survivors about how residents are using lessons from past disasters,” said Hirakawa, a member of the study group pushing for preservation of disaster-damaged structures.
IITATE, Fukushima–Progress in rezoning evacuation areas contaminated with radioactive emissions has stalled, with the government’s new zoning system enacted in only four of the 11 municipalities surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
On Tuesday, the new zoning system was implemented in Iitate. The entire village had previously been designated as an expanded evacuation zone, but has now been divided into three areas based on contamination levels.
The government had initially planned to implement the new zoning system in all 11 municipalities by April 1. However, it remains unclear when the system will be introduced in the remaining seven municipalities.
Furthermore, the four municipalities where rezoning has been completed still face various difficulties, such as rebuilding residents’ livelihoods and ongoing decontamination work.
The new zoning system aims to intensively promote decontamination work in areas where radiation levels are relatively low and encourage residents to return home.
Areas previously classified as evacuation zones based on radiation and distance from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant have been sorted into three new zoning categories. Areas are classified after precisely measuring radiation levels.
Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno attended a ceremony to send off resident-organized patrol groups Tuesday. At the ceremony, Kanno said: “We’ve met a number of times to discuss how we should rebuild our city–even though each effort was small. I’ll continue to do my best so residents can return home as soon as possible.”
Most areas in Iitate were designated as either restricted residency zones, where residents will be able to return within several years, or zones being prepared for residents’ return, where residents may return as soon as decontamination is completed. However, the village’s Nagadoro district was designated a residency prohibited zone, and residents will not be able to return for at least five years.
Rezoning procedures in the village had been delayed after some residents objected to the government’s policy of differentiating compensation payments based on which zones residents lived in. Under the government’s plan, people living in zones being prepared for residents’ return would be paid 100,000 yen per month. However, people living in the other two zone types would be paid lump sums–2.4 million yen for those in restricted residency zones, and 6 million yen for those in residency prohibited zones.
Thanks to rezoning, industries and businesses that operate indoors, such as manufacturers and financial institutions, were allowed to return to work–except for those in the Nagadoro district.
“Reconstruction in the village would have been delayed even further without the new zoning system,” Kanno said.
Iitate’s main industries are livestock and agriculture, but many farmers have already given up their livelihoods. As a result, it will be difficult for the village to rebuild its economy and ensure that there are enough jobs for residents. According to a survey conducted by the village in May, 33.1 percent of respondents said they “did not have plans to return.”
About three months have passed since most areas in Minami-Soma city’s Odaka district were designated as zones being prepared for residents’ return. Since then, people have been allowed to freely enter those areas.
However, the water supply and sewage system have yet to be restored in the district, which was home to about 430 businesses before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Of that number, only eight have resumed operations, while 37 were preparing to reopen as of June 15. Twenty-four have decided to permanently close.
A 63-year-old man said he visits his home in Odaka district from Tochigi Prefecture, where he is now staying, to occasionally clean up. He said he refrains from drinking water while he is there because the nearest portable toilet–one of 21 built by the city–is about a kilometer away from his house.
The Minami-Soma municipal government said it is trying to restore the sewage system and water supplies. However, an official said, “We have no specific date for when these services will resume.”
The new zoning system was introduced in Kawauchi village on April 1. While middle and primary schools and day care centers have reopened in former emergency evacuation preparation zones, only 39 children–17 percent of the figure before the Great East Japan Earthquake–attend the facilities.
A 34-year-old woman living at a temporary house in Koriyama said she lost her job after the disaster. The woman, a mother of two, said she is hesitant to go back home. “My 8-year-old daughter begs for us to return home, but I don’t think I can find a new job in Kawauchi,” she said.
Criticisms on rezoning
Some residents in municipalities that have yet to be rezoned are critical of the fact that the new categories are based solely on radiation levels and ignore actual living conditions.
In Okuma, a town designated as a no-entry zone, 95 percent of the town, including the town center, government buildings, banking institutions and shopping areas, is expected to be classified as a residency prohibited zone. As the remaining areas are near the mountains and surrounded by residency prohibited zones, it is unlikely many people will return there.
“Even though we’re allowed to return to parts of our town, we would hardly be able to get everyday items. It would be difficult to live there,” Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said. The town government plans not to return for at least five years.
The Futaba municipal government has asked the central government to designate the entire town as a residency prohibited zone, and hopes the town will be treated in a uniform fashion in all regards, including compensation payments.
“The reality is that we can’t live in the town anyway, even if there are some differences in radiation levels,” Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said.
(Jul. 19, 2012)