TOKYO (Nikkei)–The government will decide as early as Friday where it will disburse the first round of reconstruction grants totaling roughly 250 billion yen, over 60% of the amount requested.
The special grants were created to aid localities devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The money will be used for high-priority projects such as relocating communities at risk to a tsunami, constructing public housing for disaster victims and rebuilding seafood processing facilities at fishing ports.
Unlike regular subsidies supplied to localities, the central government will not limit the method in which the funds are used or the timing of implementation. But a total of around 1.8 trillion yen will be set aside for 40 projects in principle to prevent funding from spiraling out of control.
Seven prefectures and 78 city, town and village governments submitted project plans through the end of January, with grant requests totaling 389.9 billion yen, according to the Reconstruction Agency.
The city of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture and the city of Higashi Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture are among those seeking to relocate residents in certain districts to higher ground, with grant money being used to help prepare sites and build public facilities.
The funds will go toward helping municipalities rebuild seafood processing infrastructure destroyed during the tsunami. The cities of Rikuzentakata and Miyako in Iwate are among those that plan to use the money to rebuild fish markets and install refrigeration and other equipment at such sites.
Most of the funds are expected to be allocated to tsunami-wracked coastal areas, but a portion will be distributed to help rebuild inland areas that experienced liquefaction and other problems.
(The Nikkei Feb. 29 morning edition)
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Mayumi Baba, 36, took part as a volunteer in a meeting for children who lost parents in the March 11 disasters at an auditorium in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture in September.
After playing sports with volunteers, the children shared their thought and feelings about their lives with new families hosting them. Tears welled up in the eyes of some children who were then comforted by volunteers who sat with them.
Baba played badminton with primary school girls, occasionally sharing laughs at the event sponsored by Ashinaga, a civic group supporting children who have lost parents in accidents and other circumstances.
“I’d be happy if those kids I played with come back again,” says Baba, who herself lost her father in the tsunami.
Asked what motivated her to take up the volunteer work, Baba says, “For a long while after my father died, I could not speak with others about what’s really on my mind. I just thought everyone else around me was also in pain.”
She says the town she lives in was filled with a spirit in the air urging people to get over the disasters and just move on. She tried hard to make it through each day. “But as time passes, I had this sense of sorrow that just got deeper and deeper,” she says.
Baba was working at a kindergarten in Sendai city when the magnitude-9 quake struck. After making sure the kindergarteners were in the care of their parents and guardians, she headed to her hometown in Ishinomaki.
From Sendai, it took her three days to reach the port town, though typically it can be reached on a drive of a little over an hour. She found that the home where she lived together with her parents had been flattened without a trace.
“We’ve perhaps lost our father,” she was told by her younger brother who with his wife shared the house with their parents.
She was told her father was most probably swept away by the tsunami after he urged all other family members to evacuate to higher ground and returned to save a child in the neighborhood.
Baba later returned to Sendai to start a life alone. “It was just so hard every day,” she says. “I just didn’t know how I could overcome this sense of agony.”
Baba continued her job of nursery teacher. Watching children at the kindergarten almost every day, she thought, “While adults like me are going through this agony, I wonder how those parentless children are coping.”
She then read in a newspaper that Ashinaga was looking for volunteers to help bereaved children and decided to join a training course.
More than 1,500 children lost parents in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures in the disasters.
In the course of training, Baba let out her suppressed feelings at meetings where people in similar circumstances shared experiences of losing parents. “I learned I could unload it only when there are people who listen,” she says. “I felt much better.”
In the training, she says she learned she should not try to lead a conversation with children but rather she should try to listen to them. Some cannot immediately express in words what they feel. Stay with them and do not fear silence, but allow the children to start speaking, she was told.
Ayaka Furusawa, a 20-year-old junior college student, is another volunteer worker who had suffered. Her home in Sendai city washed away by the tsunami. Though her family survived, she says she became psychologically unstable three months after the disasters.
A survivor Keichi Kudo picks up car tire near the his damaged house at a devastated area in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, Wednesday, April 6, 2011, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
“In the evening, when I saw a bus heading toward where our home used to be, I thought I could go home if I hopped on, or tears just came out suddenly,” says Furusawa. “I also got depressed when I had nothing to do.”
She could not tell her parents about her condition. It was also too much to bear when other people told her that it was good that she had at least survived, she says. With no home to go back to and anxiety about the future, those remarks made her taciturn.
Like anger, grief builds up, according to experts, who say it is important not to contain it but to let it out. Furusawa says she had also overcome a period of instability by not containing her feelings.
Masaki Nishiyama, a 24-year-old college student who lost his parents in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, did volunteer work at shelters in Natori and Sendai cities in Miyagi Prefecture shortly after the March disasters.
After meeting children, he says he was reminded of the days he went through when he felt it too tough to move on. He was in the first grade of primary school in Kobe city when the magnitude-7.3 quake struck on Jan. 17, 1995.
He says he also tended to be withdrawn, avoiding contact with other people. But many people continued to commit themselves to engaging with him, he says.
“I think those links with other people helped me grow,” he says, noting the importance of keeping in touch with others. That was the message he delivered at meetings with bereaved children.
He will graduate university and start working in spring. He is planning to return as many times as possible to send a message to children.
“There will be a moment in life when you feel it is good that you are alive,” he says. “I hope they will continue to live until they think so. They are not alone.
JUST under a year since a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled the country, Japan looks to restore lost livelihoods and re-emerge a stronger force than it was before that fateful March 11 tragedy.
It is a difficult road to travel in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in the country’s modern history.
The catastrophe left an entire coastline destroyed, nearly 20,000 people dead or missing, and a nuclear crisis that triggered a global health scare. Most of the damage was caused by the surging water of the tsunami as opposed to the earthquake, which Japanese buildings are designed to withstand, as the country is located along the world’s most active seismic belt.
“In the past, when we talked about reconstruction, it meant restoring things to the original situation as much as possible,” said Yoshio Ando, counselor of the Secretariat of the Reconstruction Headquarters in Tokyo.
“However, this time, with the tsunami-inflicted damage, we need something more complex and complicated,” he told a group of Latin American and Caribbean journalists, invited on a tour of Japan to observe the nation’s recovery efforts.
The Japanese have laid down an aggressive plan for reconstruction, that is aimed at setting a benchmark for the rest of the world.
“The government of Japan felt that reconstruction was not just a domestic issue, but an international issue,” noted Toshiyuki Kato, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs.
“This will be a good indication to the international community that even if you face and experience tragic circumstances, if you make efforts and work hard, you can get back on your feet,” Kato said.
Within months after after the hoffific quake, Japan’s government approved three supplementary spending budgets totalling some 18 trillion yen ($20 trillion) for the reconstruction of disaster affected areas — the most severely hit being the Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures in the Tohuku region of northern Japan.
A fourth extra budget, of 2.5 trillion yen ($2.75 trillion), primarily aimed at boosting business, was recently approved. Funds were earmarked to help small businesses obtain loan guarantees to rebuild, and finance green vehicle promotion programmes as the country stares down energy challenges due to the meltdown of the Fukishima nuclear power plant during the tsunami.
Among the successes so far, government officials note that they have replaced evacuation centres with temporary housing for victims; great progress has been made cleaning up debris (the equivalent to a century’s worth of trash normally produced); and public services have been restored, except in areas contaminated by radiation. Additionally, with the help of state aid, business performances, such as that of the nation’s automakers, have improved. The country is expected to present a new energy policy this summer, revolving around lower dependence on nuclear power, energy conservation, and more use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind.
But there is still a mountain of challenges. The traditional patience of the Japanese people has been tested, as evacuees have been forced to endure tough living conditions. In the dilapidated coastal area of Tohuku, 23,600 hectares of prime farmland was left uncultivable by the tsunami, and the agriculture and fisheries industries, a major source of jobs, have been destroyed. What’s worse is that Japanese exports now face the scrutiny of an international community which remains wary of possible radiation exposure.
Kazuko Munakata, 61, is one of 128 persons living at Miyagino Ward in Sendai City, the capital of the hard-hit Miyagi prefacture. Miyagino is one of 18 temporary housing facilities in Sendai, and Munakata is one of the tens of thousands of residents whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.
Munakata is thankful for the accomodation, despite the inadequate insulation which leaves the units very cold amid one of Japan’s coldest winters in a decade.
Speaking with journalists at the facility’s lobby, aptly called ‘minna no le’ or ‘everybody’s house’, Munakata and other residents expressed their appreciation for the government’s efforts, but bemoaned the slow pace of recovery.
“I blame the politics and the politicians,” she cried, arguing that “Because the central government cannot make any decisions, the prefacture and municipal are not making any decisions as well.”
While the central government provides technical assistance and financial support, local authorities are responsible for coming up with their own guidelines for reconstruction in their respective areas.
According to the Miyagi government website, the period to achieve full recovery for the region has been set at 10 years. But frustrated Miyagino Ward residents say they are in the dark about specific plans that will improve their livelihood.
“I cannot say that I am satisfied yet,” stated 74-year old Tsugio Hiroyama. “What we have been presented with is a very big framework, but what we are interested in are details.”
Munakata and Hiroyama represent just two of hundreds of thousands of evacuees — evacuation centres housed as much as 470,000 persons immediately after the disaster.
Some 88,000 were evacuated from the area around the Fukishima plant where radiation had skyrocketed to alarming levels. More than 50,000 evacuees took shelter in Iwate.
As of January 23, there are 337,819 evacuees, most of them in prefabricated state homes similar to Miyagino.
Miyagi Prefacture governor Yoshihiro Murai explained that the restoration of jobs in the area is one of the immediate priorities.
“It is very important that one of the top priorities is that those who have become unemployed after the disaster will be re-engaged in the industrial sectors that they were involved in before. Also, we would like to attract a lot of investments from outside the prefacture in order to have more businesses,” he told journalists at his office in Sendai.
Some 110,000 jobs were lost in Miyagi due to the disaster, with just under half of those gone completely,” said Murai. Most of the persons who lost jobs woked in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
“We expect complete recovery of agriculture in two years but it is much more difficult for fisheries because coastal communities were destroyed by the tsunami, so much so that the ground sunk by about one metre and in some cases the sea level is at the same height of the pier,” the governor explained.
Murai added that the local government is also developing land to be used for the construction of houses, and preparations are being made for financial support to those who can’t afford housing.
The governor commended the patience of the Miyagi people.
“By large, Japanese people are known to be patient, but I think people of the Tohuku region are particularly patient,” he said.
Japan ran its first annual trade deficit in over three decades in 2011, against the background of the March 11 disaster which slowed production, increased dependence on fossil fuel imports and fueled fear on the world market of the possibility of radiation tainted exports.
The country recorded a 2.49 trillion yen ($2.79 trillion) trade deficit in 2011, the first time it has had a negative balance of trade since 1980. It has however embarked on a number of measures that will strengthen its global competitiveness going forward.
Manufacturers are already benefitting from state incentives geared at stimulating green production. Japanese car manufacturer Toyota, eclipsed last year by General Motors as the top selling global automaker, announced recently that it expects a record year buoyed by government subsidies for fuel-efficient cars.
“Back in the 1970s (1973 and 1979) Japan suffered from two oil shocks and there was a view that the Japanese economy could collapse because of the hike in oil prices,” said Noriyuki Shikata, Japan’s deputy cabinet secretary for public relations and director of global communications.
“Then Japanese automobile companies started producing fuel efficient (vehicles) and in the 1980s we saw companies invested so much in energy efficiency that they became competitive globally.
“So there is a window of opportunity in this adversity,” he noted.
The incentives are part of a broad strategy to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.
Nuclear power plants supplied 30 per cent of Japan’s electricity before the tsunami damaged the Fukishima power plant.
More than 50 per cent of total electricity supply was projected to come from nuclear energy by 2030 under Japan’s current energy policy. But these plans, which included building nine nuclear plants in 10 years, have been shelved, and the Japanese government hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the country abandoning nuclear power altogether if existing plants do not pass the upcoming safety tests.
But taking into account the costs associated with safety measures to operate nuclear power plants, Shikata said that the country will pursue cheaper and safer energy measures in a new policy mix that will be presented this summer.In addition to a shift for nuclear power, the new energy mix will revolve around energy conservation and more use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind.
“Nuclear power generation was regarded as less expensive because we don’t have to import lots of fuel from overseas, but now it is time for re-evaluation and cost assessment,” he said.
What’s more is that concerns about food safety remain on the internatioal marketplace 11 months after the disaster, with more recently a Tokyo manufacturer having to recall 400,000 cans of baby formula as a precaution after the discovery of traces of radioactive cesium.
In response to the concerns, Japan strengthened radiation monitoring measures. Among them, the country started measuring radiation levels of containers at shipping ports and food produce at state agriculture departments.
“Three days after the earthquake and tsunami, we began measuring radiation doses and radiation levels here at the port and have been monitoring the numbers ever since,” said Hiroyuki Oohama, manager of Port Administration in Yokohoma City, which has the second largest port in Japan.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. will pay ¥600,000 each to pregnant women and children aged 18 or under who have voluntarily evacuated their homes because of the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, sources said Tuesday.
The sum will be paid, starting next month, as compensation money through last December for residents of 23 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture located outside the government-designated evacuation zones around the plant.
Many people who have voluntarily evacuated had been hoping Tepco would pay the actual costs incurred, but the utility has said that would entail a laborious application process and delay payments, the sources said.
As a result, Tepco will add ¥200,000 to a sum presented in a compensation guideline compiled by a government panel for pregnant women and children who are likely to have seen a large increase in their living expenses as a result of evacuation, they said.
Pregnant women and kids who have remained in the 23 municipalities will each receive ¥400,000 from Tepco in line with the guideline worked out in December, the sources said. Other residents will be paid ¥80,000 each, regardless of whether they evacuated, also in line with the guideline, due to their radiation fears.
Tokyo, Feb. 27 (Jiji Press)–Tokyo Electric Power Co. <9501> on Monday reached a compensation settlement with a resident near its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station over the disaster-crippled plant’s accident.
The company, known as TEPCO, accepted a settlement proposal presented late last year by a government body to help resolve disputes over nuclear compensation.
The proposal called on TEPCO to pay a higher amount of compensation to the resident of the town of Okuma which hosts the plant than it would do under its own compensation standards.
It was the first time for TEPCO to accept such a proposal, sources familiar with the compensation issue said.
The resident, Ryozo Sato, 72, lived about 5 kilometers from the plant but evacuated to Tokyo after the accident.