community, disaster area, fukushima, mainichi shinbun

“Protection of communities must take priority in quake restoration efforts,” mainichi shinbun 4/12/2011

An evacuation order affecting residents near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant looks likely to be prolonged. Residents of the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minami-Sanriku, which was devastated by the March 11 tsunami, have also begun to move to other administrative districts to take shelter until temporary housing is completed in the town.

The government should take all possible measures to ensure evacuated residents maintain their communities while they are taking shelter. Even in cases where residents in the same neighborhoods have been forced to flee to separate shelters, the central government needs to uphold residents’ relations with their local governments and prevent them from being isolated.

Eight towns and villages situated around the quake- and tsunami-hit nuclear power plant are particularly threatened by radiation leaking from the power station. These municipalities have not only evacuated their residents or urged them to voluntarily flee their neighborhoods, but also temporarily relocated their municipal government headquarters to other administrative districts.

The Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, which is home to the nuclear plant, has shifted its municipal government headquarters, as well as many of its residents, three times: to the prefecture’s town of Kawamata, to Saitama Super Arena and to the building of a now defunct high school in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture. The municipal government of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, has decided to collectively relocate its residents to Aizu-Wakamatsu in the same prefecture.

Residents of these areas were forced to flee their homes and take shelter in the wake of devastation caused by the massive March 11 killer quake and tsunami and the ongoing threat of radiation leaks from the nuclear plant. Their plight is immeasurable.

More than 1,300 residents of Futaba, who are taking shelter in Kazo, are aiming to maintain their communities. The national government has a responsibility to provide housing to these evacuees and take other steps to support their livelihoods and help them maintain their communities, as their time away from home is likely to be prolonged. In fact, it may be better to say that the responsibility lies on the entire nation.

The national government must eliminate vertically divided administrative functions and be prepared to support education, nursing care, medical services and employment for evacuees as a whole. The local governments of disaster-hit areas from which residents have been evacuated and those in areas where the evacuees are taking shelter need to fully cooperate with each other in ensuring that both groups of residents can get along with each other. The national government should also help lessen the burdens on the local governments, by assisting in the management of data on residents, for example.

At the same time, questions remain as to how to maintain the connections between those who have fled their quake- and tsunami-ravaged neighborhoods on an individual basis and the local governments of their hometowns. The central government has not grasped how many residents from disaster-hit areas have fled to other areas. It is an urgent task for the national government to gather such information with the help of the local governments concerned.

It is feared that some residents have lost contact with the local governments of their hometowns after shifting their resident registrations to areas where they are taking shelter, and cannot receive information on relief measures in their hometowns. The central government should implement measures to allow evacuees to receive administrative services from the authorities of the areas where they are taking shelter while maintaining their resident status in their hometown even if their time in shelter is prolonged.

Evacuees’ resident registries will serve as important bonds with the local governments of their hometowns until they return and begin to restore their communities. The central government should regard the protection of the communities in quake- and tsunami-hit areas as the core of its disaster recovery efforts.

(Mainichi Japan) April 5, 2011

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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