The population of 39 municipalities ravaged in the 2011 disaster shrank by 92,000, or 6.7 percent, over four years, a rate more than eight times faster than Japan’s overall population decline, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.
Of the 42 local governments surveyed, only the Miyagi prefectural capital of Sendai and its two neighboring municipalities, the town of Rifu and Natori city, saw their populations increase following the disaster.
The decrease in the remaining municipalities included residents who were among the nearly 16,000 people killed when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku coast on March 11, 2011.
The Asahi Shimbun compared the number of resident registrations in 42 cities, towns and villages in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures on March 1 or Feb. 28, 2011, shortly before the disaster, with those on Feb. 1 or Jan. 31 this year.
The municipalities included coastal areas hit by the earthquake and tsunami and those in Fukushima Prefecture that were evacuated after the accident unfolded at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The coastal town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, had the largest population decline, of 29.1 percent. The town still lacks employment opportunities and necessary infrastructure, forcing residents to continue moving out, an Onagawa official said.
The internal affairs ministry estimates Japan’s overall population shrank by 0.8 percent during the four-year period. The average rate of decline in the 40 prefectures that saw shrinking populations was 1.7 percent.
Ten municipalities surveyed had population declines exceeding 10 percent. Six are located along the coasts of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, including Rikuzentakata, Otsuchi and Minami-Sanriku, whose urban centers were destroyed by the tsunami.
Reconstruction of housing remains nowhere in sight in many of these municipalities.
The remaining four municipalities are in Fukushima Prefecture, including the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant. These municipalities have areas designated as “difficult-to-return zones,” where high radiation levels will likely prevent residents from returning for a long time.
Sendai and the two nearby municipalities saw a combined population increase of more than 30,000 people over the four years. Municipal officials cited an influx of residents from other disaster-affected areas and reconstruction projects that have drawn many workers from around Japan.