fukushima, iwate, japan government, mainichi shinbun, miyagi

Serious inequalities emerge in disaster relief donation distribution in 3 prefectures

Serious inequality has emerged in the allocation of citizens’ donations for the surviving family of those who died in the March 11 quake and tsunami because the range of relatives entitled to payments is different in the three hardest-hit prefectures.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has decided to pay relief money to the brothers and sisters of victims if the victims had no relative of a direct line, while the Iwate and Miyagi prefectural governments exclude victims’ siblings.

In some cases, entire families were killed in the disaster and their siblings have paid for their funerals.

“There are many people who can rely on only their siblings,” lamented Kazuo Ito, 72, a resident of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture. Ito’s brother and sister-in-law, who lived next to him, died in the tsunami. Since the brother and his wife had no children, Ito — whose own house was flooded — paid for their funeral.

When he applied to the municipal government for relief money to cover the cost, an official told him that those who lost their siblings are not covered by payments drawn from the pool of disaster relief donations extended by citizens across the country.

“We also need to observe memorial services on the occasions of their second and later death anniversaries. I’m really at a loss,” Ito said.

The Iwate and Miyagi prefectural governments pay relief money only to the spouses, children, parents, grandchildren and grandparents of those who were killed in the quake and tsunami, following Hyogo Prefectural Government guidelines set in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

As there is no law providing for the allocation of money donated by citizens for disaster victims, Hyogo decided to apply the law on the payment of public condolence money to disaster victims to determine which relatives would be entitled to relief money donated by citizens.

On the other hand, the Fukushima Prefectural Government did not clearly define a range of kinship but instead decided to pay relief money to the representatives of households whose members died in the disaster. Therefore, the siblings of victims are eligible for such payment in cases where the victims had no lineal kin. However, it requires such applicants to submit documents on asset inheritance from their deceased siblings.

“There are many cases where victims have no relatives of a direct line,” said a prefectural government official.

The national government and the three prefectural governments consulted over how to allocate money donated by the public for disaster victims — such as the amount per victim. However, they decided to leave the range of relatives entitled to such money to the discretion of each prefectural government.

“Donations have been extended by citizens, and the national government isn’t supposed to be deeply involved in the allocation of such private money,” said an official with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

However, prefectural government officials said they wanted the national government to set out guidelines for the range of kin entitled to relief money.

A lawyer belonging to the Iwate Bar Association’s disaster task force said siblings of victims should be entitled to payments. “The bar association has been consulted by several citizens over the issue. It’s unreasonable that siblings cannot receive such money.”

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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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