The newly inaugurated Reconstruction Agency, which the government considers the “command tower” for recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, faces monumental challenges that need to be urgently addressed.
Among them are debris removal, relocation of disaster-zone neighborhoods to higher ground and decontamination work, for which the agency is tasked with allocating financial and human resources.
On Friday afternoon, Kazuko Kori, parliamentary secretary for reconstruction in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake reported for duty at the Miyagi reconstruction bureau. The regional bureau was opened on the 13th floor of an office building in Sendai.
After giving instructions to her staff, Kori said, “The most serious problem is how to handle the enormous amount of debris.”
According to an estimate by the Environment Ministry, Miyagi Prefecture alone has 15.69 million tons of debris, equivalent to 19 years’ worth of general household waste in the prefecture.
The situation is especially serious in Ishinomaki, which is believed to have 6.16 million tons of debris, roughly equivalent to the amount of waste in Iwate Prefecture–4.75 million tons–and Fukushima Prefecture–2.08 million tons–combined. According to Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai, a daily workforce of about 1,000 is needed simply for separating the different types of debris.
Demolition work on homes and facilities damaged by the tsunami has also been delayed. Only 43 percent of related debris had been moved to temporary storage sites as of Feb. 1. The city government and residents hope the demolition work will speed up with the launch of the new agency.
Another challenge the agency faces is the relocation of survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to higher ground. In Miyagi Prefecture, about 18,000 households in about 170 districts of 12 cities and towns are considering relocating.
As of the end of December, the cost of the project was estimated at more than 2 trillion yen, including the acquisition of 951 hectares of land to serve as relocation sites.
At a press conference on Friday, Kesennuma Mayor Shigeru Sugawara voiced his expectations as to the agency’s role as coordinator for doling out reconstruction grants from the central government to local governments in the devastated areas.
“We’ll be in trouble if the agency says, ‘We can’t do that,'” Sugawara said. “We hope the agency will become our ‘comrade in reconstruction’ so that we can resolve problems together.”
Relocation also is a serious issue in Iwate Prefecture. Ten of 12 coastal municipalities with reconstruction plans have been preparing to relocate.
However, only a limited number of staff members at the Iwate reconstruction bureau have experience in land reallocation projects.
A municipal government official in the prefecture said: “We’re unsure how such a situation will help expedite relocation projects. It may be better for us to approach the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry for advice.”
In Fukushima Prefecture, the central government’s local headquarters and the Environment Ministry’s office are already engaged in relocation projects in the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The agency’s Fukushima reconstruction bureau is mainly in charge of infrastructure restoration, such as decontaminating roads and municipal governments’ office buildings within the no-entry zone. The bureau plans to work closely with other organizations involved in reconstruction work, with a plan to integrate consultation offices into one in the near future.
Murai expressed worry that the new reconstruction agency could lead to confusion. “When information is sent through many channels, the original intention is not directly conveyed, leading to a ‘message relay game’ type of situation,” he said.
Murai said he would continue to go to Tokyo to make requests directly to the central government concerning reconstruction projects.