housing, non-profits, ofunato, yomiuri shinbun

Relocated disaster victims hard to track down / Some March 11 survivors left isolated as aid groups get tied up by red tape, privacy concerns, yomiuri, 12/29/11

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Regulations intended to protect personal privacy have hampered relief efforts for people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, with aid supplies still not reaching many people living in facilities being rented by local governments.

With local governments often denying requests for access to residents’ personal information, aid groups have found it difficult to get help to disaster victims, including disabled people. This rigid administrative attitude has been criticized, with one expert calling for local governments to be more flexible.

Early last month, Takato Chiba, 73, of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, received a box of detergent from an aid organization. “I’m relieved [aid] has finally arrived,” he said with a smile.

Chiba’s house was destroyed by the March 11 tsunami. After failing twice to win a spot in temporary housing compounds, he settled with his 72-year-old wife on the second floor of an apartment building in July. The Iwate prefectural government has rented the couple’s apartment and other existing facilities for people who lost homes in the disaster.

The detergent was the first aid Chiba had received since he moved to the apartment.

“We don’t get any information about local events or reconstruction plans,” he said. “We don’t know anyone here, so it’s a bit lonely.”

Yume Net Ofunato is one of the nonprofit organizations that visit people like Chiba. In addition to distributing relief supplies, the group has helped by preparing meals since the March disaster.

The NPO said it had heard that aid supplies were not reaching many disaster victims who do not live in the temporary housing compounds built after the disaster, but the organization did not know where these people were living. Yume Net Ofunato has dispatched about 10 workers to go door to door since early November to search for people living in housing rented by local governments. About 700 households are reportedly living in such arrangements in Ofunato, but the NPO has only located 20.

Iwate Prefecture’s ordinance on the protection of personal information has been a bottleneck for aid groups. Based on the Personal Information Protection Law, local governments have created regulations to safeguard personal information such as names and addresses. The prefecture’s Reconstruction Bureau, which is in charge of finding housing for disaster victims, said it cannot give out personal information because it would be a violation of the ordinance.

This ordinance has also undermined a system launched by the central government to provide counseling to disaster victims. As of late November, the Japan National Council of Social Welfare had hired 534 counselors to visit disaster areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. However, the council has been unable to access personal information managed by local governments.

The Iwate Prefectural Council of Social Welfare said its staff has visited almost all the households living in temporary housing compounds built after the disaster. However, the council has located only about 40 percent of the about 5,000 households living in facilities rented by local governments. And just 341 such households, less than 10 percent of the total, had been visited by counselors as of late October.

About liz

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

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