Japan’s worst natural disaster on record spurred a $3.7 billion outpouring of donations. But five months later, survivors living in temporary housing are still waiting for aid.
Half of the funds donated by groups including the Red Cross have yet to be disbursed amid a backlog of data processing and wrangling over how to distribute the money.
Thousands of people in Miyagi, the prefecture worst affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and Fukushima, where one of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plants had three meltdowns, have received the least cash, health ministry documents show.
That’s adding to uncertainty for thousands of families reeling from the disaster, which left more than 20,000 dead or missing and destroyed 263,000 homes.
It’s also frustrating the recovery of an agricultural region that contributes about 8 percent of the gross domestic product and also manufactures goods ranging from cars and electronics to beer.
“We have about 500 to 600 applications coming in daily and are processing the same amount each day,” said Emiko Okuyama, the mayor of Sendai, where 700 people died and 65,000 homes were destroyed by the tsunami. The city doubled the number of staff issuing payments to survivors, she said last week.
But 82 percent of donations allocated to Sendai have yet to be given to families in the city, according to the ministry’s documents.
“I’m sorry, I can’t say when most of the money will be sent to the people,” Okuyama told reporters at an Aug. 9 briefing. “We are doing all we can to accelerate the process.”
The money was raised by the Japanese Red Cross, the Central Community Chest of Japan, NHK and its welfare arm, the health ministry said.
Donations were also sent from 77 Red Cross branches overseas totaling ¥38.7 billion ($506 million) as of Aug. 9, according to a statement by the Japanese Red Cross.
A total of ¥25 billion has been earmarked for running programs to distribute relief supplies, provide medical services and appliances such as washing machines at evacuation centers, and to help move household goods to shelters, it said.
In Fukushima, one of 15 prefectures eligible to receive donations, 37 percent of allocated funds weren’t transferred as of Aug. 12, according to the health ministry documents.
In Chiba Prefecture, 36 percent of the money allocated for the municipality’s 34 cities and towns is still sitting in local authorities’ bank accounts. In Urayasu, a bayside suburb that’s home to Tokyo Disneyland, 42 percent of funds have been distributed.
In Fukushima, payments have been delayed while officials in some towns addressed complaints that a policy to allocate a set amount per household put large families at a disadvantage.
“Our town has many big families,” said Minoru Shoji, who works in the government office in Iitate.
His village in Fukushima was one of the towns the government ordered evacuated because of the threat of nuclear fallout from Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“It’s not fair if a household with only one person gets the same amount as a family of 10,” he said.
Criteria for allocating donations to survivors were set by a committee comprising the Japanese Red Cross, academics and local government officials of the affected areas.
An emergency payment was made in April that gave families ¥350,000 for each dead or missing relative.
The same amount was also given to families whose homes were destroyed and those ordered to evacuate within the nuclear crisis exclusion zone.
The committee devised a method in June in which funds were allocated according to the severity of damage suffered by cities and towns, which then devised their own method for disbursement to households. Local governments are also supplementing the donations to survivors from funds they raised independently.
In Iitate, ¥204,000 will be given to each of the 6,567 residents by the end of August, town official Shoji said.
Families whose homes were inside the 30-km radius of the crippled nuclear plant and residents outside the zone who had to be evacuated will be paid ¥300,000 per person in the Fukushima city of Minamisoma.
Those told to prepare for evacuation will receive ¥220,000 and the rest will be paid ¥200,000, the city’s website said.
A shortage of staff at the Japanese Red Cross delayed the use of funds raised overseas, Ramona Bajema, a senior program manager with AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster relief group planning to distribute $8 million raised through donations, said in an interview in Yokohama.
“It’s a lot of paperwork,” Bajema said.
“It takes an incredible amount of time” because staff must travel and consult with government officials to plan projects and oversee all of the works being sponsored by the donations, she said.