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Disaster reconstruction funds must be secured: LDP’s Ishiba, mainichi, 9/29/13

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party stressed the need Sunday to secure fiscal resources for continued reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 disasters if a special corporate tax surcharge to fund rehabilitation projects is ended a year early.

“The LDP is worried about whether it will be possible to secure financial resources for reconstruction,” Shigeru Ishiba, LDP secretary general, said on a Fuji Television Network program. “It is necessary to make efforts to secure resources in a convincing way.”

The government plan to bring forward the end of the surcharge is aimed at decreasing the tax burden on the corporate sector prior to the planned sales tax hike next April to 8 percent from 5 percent. The proposal, however, has met resistance from ruling party lawmakers worried about the impact on reconstruction.

Ishiba also indicated that companies should make it clear how they will use the money to be generated by the tax reduction, apparently urging them to allocate it for wage hikes and capital investment.

September 29, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

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Municipalities criticize gov’t agency for limiting Fukushima disaster aid, mainichi, 9/23/2013

At least 13 municipalities in Chiba, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures have sent critical comments to the Reconstruction Agency for its basic policy to limit the scope of assistance to only areas in Fukushima Prefecture affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The 13 municipalities, which are not covered by the draft basic implementation policy under the “Act on the Protection and Support for the Children and other Victims” of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, submitted critical “public comments” on the disaster aid program to the Reconstruction Agency. The deadline for such public comments was set for Sept. 23. It is rare for municipal governments to submit such critical public comments to government authorities. Such action is largely based on a sense of injustice over the policy of limiting the scope of aid only to those people in Fukushima Prefecture. Some of the municipalities are rejecting the draft policy outright, with the Shiroi Municipal Government in Chiba Prefecture saying, for example, “The off-the-shelf way of drawing a line by regions runs counter to the principles of law.”

The law, enacted in June 2012, stipulates that areas with at least a certain level of annual cumulative radiation dosage shall be eligible for the government assistance and a basic policy containing necessary assistance measures shall be worked out. However, the draft policy worked out by the Reconstruction Agency only designated 33 municipalities in the eastern half of Fukushima Prefecture as areas eligible for the assistance, without setting specific criteria for radiation doses. The Reconstruction Agency has not clarified the scope of specific assistance for so-called “quasi-regions eligible for assistance,” which include areas in the western half of Fukushima Prefecture and in neighboring prefectures.

The Reconstruction Agency publicly sought opinions on the aid scheme after announcing the draft basic policy on Aug. 30. After checking the websites of municipal governments and other sources, the Mainichi Shimbun found that 13 municipalities submitted their public comments on the draft policy to the agency. Those municipalities are: Noda, Kashiwa, Kamagaya, Matsudo, Shiroi, Nagareyama, Sakura, Abiko and Inzai in Chiba Prefecture; Toride, Moriya, and Joso in Ibaraki Prefecture; and Nasushiobara in Tochigi Prefecture.

The central government sets the maximum permissible amount of radiation exposure per year for the general public at 1 millisievert (0.23 microsieverts per hour). The government designated those areas (municipalities) that were exposed to radiation exceeding the permissible limit as “Intensive Contamination Survey Areas,” and has since been providing assistance to them. Currently, 100 municipalities in eight prefectures are designated as “Intensive Contamination Survey Areas,” and the 13 municipalities are among them.

In their opinions submitted to the Reconstruction Agency, all of the 13 municipal governments called for attaching importance to health assistance for children and pregnant women. They are critical of the government for applying “double standards” with the decontamination law and the nuclear disaster aid law. Municipalities such as Abiko insist that those areas designated as “Intensive Contamination Survey Areas” be eligible for the nuclear disaster assistance. Public comments are solicited from the general public when laws, regulations or institutions are to be established or revised, but it is rare for local municipalities to submit critical comments en masse.

Fearing exodus, disaster-hit towns compete to offer highest subsidies, asahi, 9/23/12

Municipalities in the Tohoku disaster area are so intent on outdoing each other in terms of reconstruction subsidies that the prefectural and central governments have warned against the heated competition.

The local governments, however, say they are running out of options to save their towns from a population exodus.

“It’s a life-or-death problem for the town,” said Yutaka Ikarigawa, mayor of Otsuchi, a coastal town in Iwate Prefecture that has seen its population drop by 20 percent since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. “We want to prevent any more people from leaving however we can.”

Disaster survivors in high-risk areas of Iwate Prefecture inundated by the 2011 tsunami can receive 3 million yen in assistance, mainly from the national and prefectural governments, to build new homes at different locations within the prefecture. They can also receive a subsidy of up to 7.08 million yen to pay interest on a mortgage.

Municipalities are offering additional subsidies for home reconstruction. And that’s where the competition is taking place.

In October last year, Otsuchi announced a 1.5-million-yen subsidy, 500,000 yen more than what the nearby cities of Kamaishi and Ofunato were offering.

A senior Otsuchi official said the town had first waited to see how much others could offer “to make better bids.”

But in May this year, Ofunato announced it would raise its subsidy from 1 million yen to 2 million. Kamaishi followed suit in June.

Otsuchi decided in July to increase its subsidy to 2 million yen.

The Iwate prefectural government gathered officials from the municipalities and told them to “try and share information” instead of competing against each other.

An official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said: “If this battle to outdo each other keeps up, those municipalities won’t have the budgets to fund (the subsidies.)”

Complaints are also being raised over the differences in assistance levels in the Tohoku region. Many survivors are stuck in temporary housing because they lack the funds to rebuild.

Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, which hosts a nuclear power plant operated by Tohoku Electric Power Co., subsidizes payments for mortgage interest and provides assistance of up to 3 million yen to keep residents in the town.

The town’s population has fallen from more than 10,000 to around 7,700.

“The reason why we offer better subsidies than other municipalities is that we are more attentive to the issue,” a town official said.

The city of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, has a cap of 1.5 million yen on cash subsidies for home reconstruction, below the limit in the city of Rikuzentakata in neighboring Iwate Prefecture, where it is 2 million yen.

Rikuzentakata also disburses a separate subsidy of up to 2.5 million yen on mortgage interest.

“We’re all disaster survivors. Why the inequality?” asked a 64-year-old man who wants to rebuild his home in Kesennuma.

“We also have to set aside money in the budget for industrial assistance and maintaining temporary housing,” a Kesennuma official said. “We can’t just use it all on rebuilding homes.”

Hiroya Masuda, an adviser to Nomura Research Institute and a former minister of internal affairs and communications, agrees that measures to revitalize the local community should be considered in plans to support housing reconstruction.

“Even if you rebuild homes, the disaster survivors won’t come back if there’s no place to work,” he said. “Municipalities should figure out what survivors want in order to return to their former lives, and they should only compete on coming up with ideas to rebuild communities.”

Tohoku still in dire need of medical support, japan times, 9/11/13

Thirty months after tsunami devastated the Tohoku coast, residents are still facing a lack of medical services because of delays in restarting damaged hospitals and clinics and the closures of others.

To overcome the shortage of medical staff in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the central government has taken special measures, such as reducing the number of nurses required to operate.

The steps have not been much help in the affected areas, which was short on medical services even before the disasters. Others have given up due to concerns about overall health conditions.

In Rikuzentakata, a city in Iwate that was heavily damaged by tsunami, only 13 of 20 medical institutions have reopened. The reduction means some of the city’s residents have to spend an entire day to visit a hospital.

A prefectural hospital in the city is using doctors on loan from other hospitals both in and outside the prefecture, but it is uncertain if the personnel support system can be sustained, a prefectural official said.

The situation is even worse in the Miyagi town of Minamisanriku, where only two of 13 medical institutions have reopened. An official at a public health center said many of them are mired in uncertainty because the town’s reconstruction plans remain in flux.

Patients in serious condition and needing emergency care must be sent to the neighboring city of Ishinomaki. However, an ambulance takes more than 30 minutes to travel from Minamisanriku to Ishinomaki.

Adding insult to injury, Ishinomaki likewise faces a shortage of medical services.

“Some people have stopped going to hospitals,” an Ishinomaki official said.

The city’s health consultation services have been concentrated mainly on preventive steps for evacuees living in temporary housing.

In Iwate, prefectural hospitals in the towns of Yamada and Otsuchi were damaged by the March 2011 tsunami at the cost of 60 beds each.

Prefectural hospitals in neighboring areas are accepting patients from the two towns who need hospitalization. However, some patients and their families are finding it difficult to get to these distant institutions, an Iwate official said.

“We want to give them a sense of security as early as possible,” the official said, emphasizing the importance of restoring local hospitals.

A hospital in Ishinomaki that was destroyed by tsunami has restarted services with a makeshift clinic, but it can’t accept patients in need of emergency care or hospitalization.

As a result, patients are crowding the Japanese Red Cross Ishinomaki Hospital. The institution is swamped by a 20 percent increase in patients requiring hospitalization and a 40 percent surge in patients needing emergency care, compared with the pre-disaster levels.

To deal with the situation, the hospital is shortening patients’ stays when possible.

On top of their other problems, hospitals in Fukushima Prefecture are struggling to secure staff because concerns persist about radioactive contamination.

The number of nurses has dropped at a major hospital run by the city of Mimamisoma.

“Even if we hire new nurses, they soon quit,” an official at the hospital said. The hospital has 230 beds, but it only has the manpower to cover 150.

Another hospital run by the city is planning to reopen its internal medicine department next April, but an official there said they aren’t sure whether it can secure enough doctors and nurses.

2011 disaster survivors stuck in housing limbo, asahi, 9/11/2013

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture–Frustrations remain high for many of the tens of thousands of displaced victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, who just want a place to call home.

Two and a half years after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, 103,600 survivors of the disaster still live in temporary housing units in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Haruko Omi, 88, and her friend Toshie Inoue, 70, moved to their current provisional housing unit in Ishinomaki last year from another temporary unit in the same city.

The two, who live together, found the previous unit, with its two 4.5-mat tatami rooms, too small because the special-care bed for Inoue, who is certified by the government as physically disabled, required a large amount of space.

As a result, Omi was forced to sleep on a futon spread on the floor. The problem is Omi is also certified as an elderly person in need of long-term care and support.

“With my hips and legs getting weaker, it was difficult to even get up from the futon,” Omi said.

They wanted to live in a public housing unit being built specifically for disaster survivors, but the project has moved slower than planned. They were told the apartment would not be ready until 2014 at the earliest.

Omi and Inoue reluctantly moved to the current temporary housing, which is only just slightly bigger than the previous unit. It has one six-mat room and a 4.5-mat room.

Still, the extra space means Omi now has room for a bed of her own. “Now it’s easier to get up,” she said.

In Ishinomaki, about 15,000 disaster survivors still live in temporary housing. Even if they find their unit has become too small due to circumstances that may include caring for the elderly or a newborn child, the most they can hope for is finding another unit not much larger than their current residence.

At present, about 80 households are still waiting for temporary housing units to become available.

Meanwhile, some residents who evacuated to other prefectures after the disaster are returning, and they too find themselves forced to live in provisional housing.

Keiko Fukuda, 34, evacuated to Yamagata, where her relatives live. She returned to Ishinomaki in March with her two children. “I thought I could no longer live in Ishinomaki” after witnessing the tsunami, she said.

But as things began to settle last year, the desire to return to Ishinomaki, her long-time place of residence, started to grow. She also worried about her mother, who had already returned to the neighboring town of Onagawa, in Miyagi Prefecture.

Fukuda moved back only after her eldest daughter, 13, graduated from elementary school.

Now she is living in a unit with two small rooms, meaning her children do not have a room to call their own.

“It’s a pity for a child of that age (not to have their own room),” she said.

With prospects dim for a move into a public housing unit for disaster victims any time soon, Fukuda said, “I cannot alleviate the anxiety that plagues me about my future.”

In Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, the school grounds of the municipal Daiichi Junior High School house temporary units for local disaster victims.

After his class ends, second-year student Haruto Saito, 13, with a tennis racket in hand, makes the five-minute walk downhill to temporary athletic grounds set up at the former site of a sake brewery destroyed by the tsunami.

He occasionally wishes he could return to the old school grounds where he now lives with his parents, grandparents and younger sister in provisional housing.

His mother, Hiromi, 39, said, “This is the site where the school used to hold its athletic meets. I hope we could return it to children as soon as possible.”

Their temporary unit consists of a six-mat tatami room, two 4.5-mat tatami rooms and a kitchen; not enough room to secure a sleeping space or a place to study.

The family couldn’t move out even if they wanted to. They are hoping to build a new house on the hill behind the junior high school, but it would take at least 18 months.

Worse, there is no guarantee the Saito family will be able to build a house there, with applicants outnumbering projections on the amount of available land for housing.

Hiromi is worried: “We only want to secure a place to live.”

In Rikuzentakata, about 5,000 residents live in 53 temporary housing complexes. Of those, 10 are located on the grounds of elementary and junior high schools.

According to the city board of education, the decrease in available space where children can exercise and play sports is impacting their physical abilities. The city has a total of 12 elementary and junior high schools.

According to figures released by the National Police Agency on Sept. 10, 15,883 people in 12 prefectures lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and aftershocks, with 2,654 people still missing in six prefectures. A total of 6,146 people were injured in 20 prefectures.

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