Nearly 9,000 people who lost their homes in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are still living in evacuation centers. Prime Ministers Naoto Kan’s earlier promise that construction of temporary housing facilities would be completed by the mid-August Obon period has been pushed back to September.
To ensure that people living in shelters for prolonged periods are not forced to endure the cold in shelters once again, central and local governments must work to relieve the housing situation before the fall. In addition, measures must be taken to reduce the red tape that could become a potential obstacle to providing those who have moved into temporary housing facilities and private rental homes with the support they need.
Some 43,000 people from disaster-stricken areas are still staying at hotels, relatives’ homes and other types of lodging. About 8,600 of these people are still in evacuation shelters set up in community centers and other facilities, primarily in Ishinomaki, Kesennuma, and other cities on the Miyagi Prefecture coast.
Residents and authorities are busy dealing with the summer heat, but temperatures will dip drastically at night in the disaster-stricken Tohoku region come autumn. Local governments must make all possible efforts toward improving residents’ living conditions, while taking steps so that shelters can be shut down unless there are extenuating circumstances.
As of Aug. 11, approximately 47,000 emergency temporary housing units had been completed, with the construction of 5,000 units still behind schedule. Meanwhile, as a result of the government’s decision to recognize privately owned rental homes as temporary housing facilities and provide subsidies to refugees who decide to move into them, the total demand for public emergency housing has turned out to be far lower than was initially predicted.
Around 50,000 homes have been granted “temporary housing status” thus far. This allowance was not made by the central government until late April, and the government must acknowledge and reflect upon its delay in taking a flexible approach to the needs of disaster victims.
The focus of assistance for victims of the March disaster is shifting toward supporting those who have moved from evacuation shelters to public temporary housing facilities and privately owned homes. In the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit Kobe and its surroundings in January 1995, the solitary deaths of people living alone in temporary housing became a significant problem. For victims of the most recent disaster the central government has established a support team spanning various government ministries, but what people need is a single contact that provides comprehensive medical, educational and nursing care support transcending the jurisdictions of government ministries and agencies.
When providing support, authorities should avoid rigid rules, including those on the relocation of residents in temporary housing. For people who have moved into privately owned rentals, an approach separate from that taken for residents of public temporary housing must be established to prevent solitary deaths.
Efforts must be made for disaster victims who have been dispersed to locations outside their local municipalities or to other prefectures to maintain their ties with their municipalities of origin. The central government has taken legislative steps ensuring that those who have been forced to flee due to the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant will receive government services in the municipalities to which they have evacuated. Providing such evacuees with detailed information from their hometown governments will surely contribute to the preservation of community ties.
Deliberation on such topics as the government’s third supplementary budget and possible tax hikes tend to attract much of the public’s attention with regard to the Tohoku region’s reconstruction. However, we must remind ourselves that it is only by dealing step by step with what lies before us now — including the provision of aid to evacuees and the painstaking removal of the rubble that has been left behind — that we will find the path to true reconstruction.