The Reconstruction Agency announced on March 28 that it has effectively secured land to build 3,741 homes in the first phase of a public housing project for people affected by the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Of the total of 4,890 homes to be constructed in the project, land for the remaining 1,149 units in the second phase is expected to be secured by September, the agency said. The Fukushima prefectural government, which is in charge of implementing the housing project, will address problems in the bidding process, including unsuccessful tenders, and plans to complete building all units by September 2016.
In the disaster-related public housing project, the prefectural government selects sites for homes, which will be built using community revival subsidies provided by the agency to finance the project. The local government has already filed applications to build 2,591 houses and secured corresponding subsidies from the agency. By March 28, it had agreed with landowners of housing sites to build another 1,150 units and filed additional applications for a combined total of 3,741 units.
As for the 1,149 houses for the second phase, the prefectural government is set to agree shortly on deals with landowners in Fukushima and Iwaki cities over sites to accommodate 190 units. It is speeding up work to select sites for the remaining 959 units, and hopes to be able to secure necessary land by September.
Tokyo, March 4 (Jiji Press)–With labor shortages on construction sites holding up progress on disaster reconstruction in northeastern Japan, the Japanese government hopes to ease restrictions on the country’s job training system to attract more workers from overseas.
It remains uncertain, however, whether the proposed measures will go ahead as envisaged by the government, as some Japanese are persistently cautious about accepting foreign nationals into their country.
Three-Quarters of Peak Level
On Feb. 24, ahead of the third anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the government’s resolve to speed up the reconstruction of affected areas.
“More than 70 pct of the planned projects to relocate houses to upland areas and build public homes for disaster victims have started and it is finally time for construction work,” Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting.
With the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaching, numbers do not match reality in terms of progress on reconstruction, adding to the woes of people affected.
As of late last year, official statistics released by the Reconstruction Agency and other government bodies showed significant progress especially on “town rebuilding” efforts, such as the disposal of debris and reconstructing medical institutions and schools, over the past year. In many areas where collective relocation had been in the planning stages last year, 87 percent of construction has begun on the planned projects, while 91 percent of debris disposal has been completed.
In the fishery sector, which was hit hard by the 2011 disaster, the region’s fish haul has recovered to 70 percent of predisaster levels. Sixty-three percent of farmland damaged by tsunami is said to have been restored.
Despite these figures, local people in the farming sector appear glum.
“Farmland that was filled with debris appears to have been restored over the past year, but…” Yukiyoshi Aizawa, a 63-year-old farmer, said of a plot of land in the district of Rokugo in eastern Sendai.
In fiscal 2012, the central government launched farmland restoration work in the district about 1.5 kilometers from the sea. In addition to debris disposal, work to remove salt by repeatedly pouring freshwater onto the farmland was carried out. Such efforts are supposed to help farmland return to normal.
However, soybeans Aizawa planted in June grew to 20 centimeters before the leaves turned yellow and the plants died. He planted soybeans again in July, with the same result.
In cooperation with other farmers, Aizawa planted soybeans in a nearby 45-hectare field, but they were unable to harvest any soybeans in a 30-hectare area. The concentration of salt in the soil of the farmland might have remained too high.
The percentage of farmland restored, 63 percent, has been calculated on areas of land returned to farmers. The figure does not show whether farmers were able to harvest any produce.
“We don’t have statistics on that,” an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.
Similar complaints have also been heard from farmers in Iwate Prefecture.
“After the disaster, we’ve seen seawater flowing back to five kilometers in the upper stream of some rivers due to land subsidence. Even after restoration work is done, people have been unable to harvest crops on some farmland because of the lack of freshwater,” an official of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in Ofunato said.
The job offers-to-seekers ratios of January in three disaster-stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were higher than the national average of 1.04, meaning there were 104 job offers for every 100 job seekers.
The ratios were 1.09 in Iwate Prefecture and 1.31 in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
By prefecture, the ratio of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ranked seventh and that of Iwate 17th among the nation’s 47 prefectures.
According to the Miyagi Labor Bureau, the special procurement boom based on reconstruction projects favorably affected the prefecture’s ratio. In addition, emergency employment measures were conducted by the central government to create more than 20,000 jobs only in Miyagi Prefecture in fiscal 2013.
Consequently, the number of job seekers, which is the denominator in calculating the ratio, fell by 20 percent to 44,000 from the February 2011 figure, just before the March 11, 2011, disaster.
These factors boosted the job-offers-to-seekers ratio in the prefecture, the bureau said.
Similar job tendency is also seen in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.
The figures show the unemployment problem seems to have been resolved, but new problems have also arisen—as the government’s employment measures had job seekers turning away from fisheries and other local industries.
“No matter how hard we recruit employees through Hello Work, we can’t get a sufficient number of people,” said Tadatoshi Oshima, 65, president of a marine products processing company in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.
The firm’s new plant, which is now under construction in the city, will start operation in September. It formerly employed about 100 people, but the number decreased by half after the disaster, and it remains at that level.
No more than one person in a month receives a job interview for the firm through the Hello Work public job placement offices. It remains uncertain when the company can solve its labor shortage, he said.
In Kesennuma, construction workers are now paid about ¥10,000 a day, and those who get a job via the government’s emergency employment program—such as patrolling temporary housing units—receive about ¥8,000 a day.
The daily wages are attractive for job seekers while the fishery processing firm pays about ¥6,000, observers said.
The Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that while local companies are beginning to be restored, the government’s emergency employment measures have begun to choke off the local key industries.
Tokyo, Feb. 28 (Jiji Press)–The Reconstruction Agency will boost efforts to help people rebuild homes and strengthen community development in areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto has said.
The year 2014 is a very important year when substantial progress would be made in many reconstruction projects, including house construction and work to prepare bases for long-term evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant damaged heavily by the disaster, he said.
“In Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, rebuilding the homes of disaster victims is more important than anything else,” he said in an interview ahead of the third anniversary of the catastrophe, adding that the agency will help as many people as possible move into new homes.
In Fukushima, recovery in the shadow of the nuclear accident is a challenging issue, he said.
By utilizing a recently launched subsidy program, the agency will do more to help lay the groundwork to enable evacuees from the nuclear disaster to return to their homes where possible, he added.
Plans to build new public apartments for the nuclear refugees in Fukushima Prefecture are stalling because the prefectural government is struggling to attract bids from contractors.
On Jan. 31, Fukushima announced that a project for a 16-unit concrete apartment complex in the city of Aizuwakamatsu in the western part of the prefecture failed to attract bidders. It failed because the eight private contractors who participated didn’t make offers that matched the prefecture’s budget amid surging demand for labor and materials in disaster-hit Tohoku.
It was Fukushima’s second public housing project to attract bids. Last August, an offer for a 20-unit apartment block in the city of Koriyama also failed twice. The prefecture finally found a contractor after raising the initial price twice.
Efforts to acquire land for new apartments are also stalling as negotiations with landowners are taking longer than expected. Of the 3,700 units scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, only 60 percent, or 2,360, were ready to be built, unhindered by land acquisition problems.
Because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that unfolded in March 2011, six towns and villages that had to be evacuated — Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Katsurao and Iitate — plan to build “out-of-town” communities where reinforced public apartments play a central role. The prefecture plans to build 4,890 units to house people from these and 13 other municipalities.
The prefecture has not come up with good ideas to expedite public housing, and the evacuees are facing the very real possibility they could be in temporary lodging for years to come. The fastest project to be completed so far is the 20-unit complex in Koriyama, which won’t start accepting residents until October.
When the evacuees move in, the prefectural government plans to let groups of residents who formed close ties in the shelters occupy neighboring units at the new apartments so those relationships can be preserved.
This is a lesson learned from the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, when the shift to permanent public housing severed bonds the evacuees had formed in its aftermath, leaving them socially isolated and leading to a surge in solitary deaths.