The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has decided to station staff it calls “reconstruction supporters” in areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Supporters will serve as a bridge between residents and local governments, a ministry official said, providing livelihood assistance for disaster victims living in temporary housing units and helping gather residents’ opinions on the rebuilding of their communities.
The ministry initially plans to place about 100 supporters in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and elsewhere in fiscal 2012 starting in April.
The ministry plans to install such staff in all local governments that request them, and expects the number to eventually increase to several hundred or 1,000.
Supporters will be recruited by prefectural and municipal governments, which will accept applications from the private sector. They will be in charge of areas covered by different community associations.
Possible candidates include people who can live in or commute to disaster-damaged areas and have experience working at nonprofit organizations or as volunteers, the ministry official said. Disaster victims still living in disaster-stricken areas would also be eligible.
Supporters will be hired as temporary staff at local governments or conclude employment contracts with NPOs commissioned by local governments.
In addition to expenses for transportation and such activities as organizing conferences, each supporter will receive annual pay of a maximum of 2 million yen.
Special state tax grants to local governments will be used to finance the supporters system. Nine prefectures are eligible–Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba, Niigata and Nagano–and 222 cities, towns and villages in 11 prefectures that were designated as special reconstruction zones.
Some local governments will start accepting applications soon, the official said.
Supporters’ duties will include:
— Visiting survivors’ homes to check whether they have any problems with their livelihood or whether elderly people are living alone, and report any issues to administrative offices.
— Organizing a forum to collect residents’ views on such plans as moving houses to higher ground.
— Providing information on the progress of community reconstruction to disaster victims who evacuated to areas far from their homes.
The ministry will ask local governments to hire reconstruction supporters as soon as possible so they can establish smooth relationships with local residents.
The Miyagi prefectural government launched a model project in August and has recruited four “community rebuilding supporters” to help reconstruct Higashi-Matsushima City and another four for the town of Minami-Sanriku. All are survivors of the March 11 disaster who were involved in town planning in the past. They have been delegated to conduct a survey of residents’ needs.
The prefecture plans to transfer this project to the ministry’s program for reconstruction supporters.
“First, we plan to station two or three supporters in each [reconstruction-designated] city or town,” a prefectural government official said.
The Niigata prefectural government adopted a system similar to the reconstruction supporters program in the aftermath of the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake. In more than 100 communities, including the former village of Yamakoshi (currently integrated into Nagaoka City), 40 to 50 people still work as supporters every year.
Damage was reported at about 4,500 locations in farming and fishing communities in nine prefectures after the March 11 disaster, according to a survey conducted by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. The damage in Fukushima Prefecture is yet to be surveyed.
Since a huge number of reconstruction supporters will be necessary, the internal affairs ministry plans to hold seminars for reconstruction supporters so they can acquire the know-how to promote communication among residents and convey their opinions to administrative offices.
(Jan. 21, 2012)