Local governments in northeastern Japan severely affected by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami have secured tens of thousands of “deemed temporary houses” for disaster victims by renting private homes, but the people using those facilities are scattered across the country in such a way that local governments and relief workers cannot easily reach them.
As of Dec. 27, there were about 66,000 “deemed temporary houses” across the country, compared to about 52,000 conventional temporary homes that were built after the disasters struck the regions. The system of “deemed temporary housing,” which was established in the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, has many good points as it allows the central and local governments to secure temporary housing at cheaper costs than conventional temporary houses and allows affected people to move into temporary houses swiftly. On the other hand, such “deemed temporary houses” are scattered all over the country, making it difficult for local governments and relief workers to send information and aid to the affected people.
“We can’t tell and invite people to visit us and play with us,” a 66-year-old housewife murmured on Jan. 14 when she visited the venue for consultations on “deemed temporary houses” set up by the social welfare office in Sendai’s Taihaku Ward in Miyagi Prefecture. Her house in a coastal area in Miyagi Prefecture was washed away and destroyed by the tsunami. In June, she moved into an apartment in Sendai with her family. But there was no one nearby she knew. Although six months have passed since she moved into the apartment, she still feels uneasy about whether she can get used to life there.
The system of “deemed temporary housing” was institutionalized after the then Ministry of Welfare incorporated it into its guidelines for stopgap aid in 1997. In the case of the Great East Japan Earthquake, it was difficult to build temporary houses due mainly to shortages of materials. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry gave the green light to the idea of local governments shouldering the rent for homes disaster victims had already rented on their own. That triggered a sharp rise in the number of disaster victims living in “deemed temporary housing.”
While the system has been well received, fresh problems have emerged. People living in “deemed temporary housing” have tended to be isolated because information on relief measures and the like cannot reach them easily. A social welfare councilor who visits local communities to give advice to affected people said, “I want them to come here and tell us everything they are thinking about.”
Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, professor of urban planning at Kobe University, said, “The government should help with the scheme by securing consent from affected people at the time of signing contracts to use private information such as their addresses for subsequent relief efforts.”