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Disaster danger zone exemptions lead to patchwork in tsunami-hit Rikuzentakata, mainichi, 5/5/14

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — Some residents here have won their fight to have their properties hit by the March 2011 tsunami exempted from municipal government designation as zones vulnerable to natural disasters, it has been learned.

The residents had pushed for the exemption as they did not want to move. As a result, some legally designated vulnerable areas sit side-by-side with undesignated areas even in places that were badly hit by the tsunami.

Under the Building Standards Act, local authorities are supposed to place restrictions on land use in areas designated as zones vulnerable to disasters. However, the Rikuzentakata Municipal Government chose not to designate some land as such despite severe damage caused by the disasters, bowing to pressure from owners. In contrast, municipalities in other disaster areas, including those in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, have uniformly designated areas as such regardless of residents’ opinions.

The revelations highlight the difficulties when administrative organizations step into individual property rights and rights of residence. The Iwate Prefectural Government is critical of the municipal government’s policy.

“Since the primary aim of the Building Standards Act is to eliminate dangers, the local body should apply those standards uniformly,” said an official from the prefectural government’s construction and housing division.

Rikuzentakata stipulated in an ordinance in March 2012 that the city must designate areas that are specified by the mayor as zones vulnerable to disasters, and that vulnerable areas can be exempted from designation only if absolutely necessary.

Areas amounting to some 1,300 hectares in the city were flooded as a result of a massive tsunami generated by the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Of these areas, the city considered designating five residential areas, totaling 142.5 hectares, as zones vulnerable to disasters.

However, the city has thus far designated only about 58 hectares. Some residents in these areas have already rebuilt their homes on their own lots, as the city does not designate properties where home owners are seeking to rebuild in situ as vulnerable.

http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140505p2a00m0na009000c.html

 

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The Road to Recovery: Three Years On from 3/11, nippon.com, 4/15/2014

original link: http://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00049/

Three years have passed since the widespread devastation of the Great East Japan Earthquake. How far has the nation come along its path of recovery from the earthquake, tsunami, and disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station?

On March 11 this year, exactly three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake caused unprecedented devastation across much of the northeast part of the country, a government-organized memorial service took place at the National Theater of Japan. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, and representatives of the families of those who lost their lives in the disaster gathered to pray for the repose of the souls of the deceased, and the prime minister gave a speech declaring his resolve to further hasten the pace of rebuilding efforts. But three years on from the earthquake and tsunami, how far has the nation come along the path to recovery?

Over 260,000 Unable to Return Home

As of March 10, 2014, according to National Police Agency figures, the disaster had caused 15,884 deaths, with 2,633 still unaccounted for. Reconstruction Agency statistics show that as of February 13, there were still 267,419 refugees unable to return to their homes—a drop of 47,000 from the previous year, but still a very high number. With 102,650 of these individuals still living in 46,275 temporary housing units across eight prefectures, it is clear that the effort to rehouse those affected is proceeding more slowly than might have been hoped.

Clearance of debris, meanwhile, is making somewhat smoother progress, with some 16.1 million tons, or 95% of the total wreckage, having been removed in the three years since the disaster. (This figure excludes contaminated waste from designated zones within Fukushima Prefecture.) In addition to this, 8.9 million tons of sediment washed ashore by the tsunami, or 94% of the total, has been successfully cleared.

Still a Long Way to Go

Unfortunately, when it comes to the recovery of local businesses the picture is less encouraging. A September 2013 survey conducted by the Tōhoku Bureau of Economy, Trade, and Industry identified some sectors in which the turnover of respondent businesses was getting closer to pre-3/11 levels (most notably construction and haulage, at 66% and 42.3% of predisaster takings, respectively). Some other types of business are not faring so well, though. The food and fisheries sector, a traditional Tōhoku mainstay, had only seen a 14% recovery, and the combined turnover of businesses in the wholesale, retail, and service sectors was also languishing at 30.6% of takings before the disaster. The area also faces continuing problems arising from the damage to local business facilities, as well as the post-3/11 population drain.

This is especially the case in Fukushima Prefecture, which lags behind Miyagi and Iwate to the north in terms of recovery, mainly due to the evacuation and exclusion zones imposed in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster. To restore some stability to the lives of the evacuees and other victims from the area, concerted efforts are underway to prepare permanent “restoration housing” complexes. But there is still much to do to restore normality to the lives of those affected.

Keeping the Focus on the North

At a March 10 press conference held in advance of the anniversary, Prime Minister Abe declared the national government would further increase the pace of recovery in the affected areas, stressing: “There can be no revitalization of Japan without recovery in Tōhoku.” He also touched on the goal of making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics an opportunity to let the world see how fully the Tōhoku area has bounced back.

The prime minister also spoke of making the year ahead one in which the residents of the affected areas would “feel the recovery,” pledging relocation of communities in 200 areas to higher ground and the completion of a further 10,000 “restoration housing” units for evacuees. In Fukushima, where recovery has been severely hampered by the nuclear disaster, Abe announced accelerated measures to deal with contaminated water from the site and to boost the prefecture’s postdisaster infrastructure through such steps as the full reopening of the JōbanExpressway.

Current Conditions in Disaster-Affected Regions

The following tables are based on data released by the Reconstruction Agency, the National Police Agency, the Ministry of the Environment, and local authorities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures.)

Individuals Displaced by the Disaster

Total In evacuation centers In housing units
March 14, 2011 Approx. 470,000
December 2012 321,433 159 305,048
December 2013 274,088 0 259,916
February 13, 2014 267,419 0

Note: Combined data for Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, and Tochigi Prefectures

Individuals in Temporary Accommodation

Municipal housing, etc. Private housing (with relatives, etc.) Temporary prefabricated structures
December 2012 30,222 157,576 112,996
October 2013
(no. of structures)
24,797 131,102 102,650
(9,153) (53,392) (46,275)

Notes: December 2012 figures are national totals. October 2013 figures are combined totals for Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba, and Nagano Prefectures.

Clearance & Disposal of Debris

With the exception of parts of Fukushima Prefecture, disposal of all debris is projected to be completed by the end of March 2014. In Fukushima (excepting evacuation zones), the goal is to move all debris to temporary storage locations within fiscal 2013 (ending March 2014) and safely disposed of as soon as possible within fiscal 2014.

Latest Figures on Clearance of Debris

Estimated initial amount (tons) (A) Amount cleared (tons) (B) Percentage of initial total cleared (B/A) Amount treated and disposed of (tons) (C) Percentage treated and disposed of (C/A)
Rubble and debris 16.6 million 16.1 million 97% 15.2 million
(6.1 million)
91% (34%)
Sediment carried ashore by the tsunami 10.9 million 10.3 million 94% 8.9 million
(1.4 million)
82% (15%)

Notes: Figures are as of the end of November 2013, based on data from 32 coastal municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures. Figures in parentheses are as of the end of November 2012. This table excludes data for contaminated debris from designated zones in Fukushima Prefecture.

Percentage of debris disposed of Municipalities
100% Rifu, Matsushima, Watari-Natori Block (Natori, Iwanuma, Watari)
More than 90% Hirono, Noda, Fudai, Tanohata, Iwaizumi, Miyako, Ōtsuchi, Kamaishi, Ōfunato, Kesennuma Block (Kesennuma, Minamisanriku), Ishinomaki Block (Onagawa, Ishinomaki, Higashimatsushima), Miyagi-Tōbu Block (Shiogama, Tagajo, Shichigahama), Sendai, Watari-Natori Block (Yamamoto), Iwaki
More than 80% Rikuzentakata, Yamada
Less than 80% Kuji, Shinchi, Sōma, Minamisōma, Hirono

Note: Data for disposal of debris in coastal municipalities.

Progress on Decontamination

Areas other than Fukushima Prefecture (End of Dec. 2013)
Area decontaminated
Schools, nurseries, etc. 98%
Parks, sports facilities 95%
Residential areas 59%
Roads 90%
Farmland, pastures 73%
Forests (in or near areas of human activity) 8%
Fukushima Prefecture (End of Nov. 2013)
Area decontaminated
Municipal facilities, etc. 72.6%
Residential areas 35.4%
Roads 26.7%
Farmland 81.0%
Forests (in areas of human activity) 12.7%

Notes: Data from Ministry of the Environment, except for Fukushima data, obtained from the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

Recovery by Local Businesses

Farming (% of predisaster levels)
Iwate Up to 101%
Miyagi Up to 99%
Fukushima Up to 85%
Total Up to 94%

Notes: Figures are for total land areas engaged in paddy-field rice cultivation, based on 2013 data for rice yields in the Tōhoku region.

Fisheries
Recorded catches Up to 69% of predisaster levels (monetary value up to 75%)
Reopened fish processing plants (821 damaged plants) 78% (638 plants reopened)

Notes: Recorded catches are those landed at key fish markets in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures from November 2012 to October 2013. Damaged processing plants were in three disaster-hit prefectures; reopening figure is as of the end of September 2013.

Recovery and Reconstruction of Municipal Infrastructure

“Restoration Housing” Projects
Currently under construction 61%
Completed 2%

Note: Percentages are of total proposed projects as of the end of November 2013.

Postdisaster Reconstruction and Collective Relocation
Approved project proposals 100%
Projects currently under construction 64%
Completed projects 5%

Notes: Work on community infrastructure, including water and sewer systems and medical and educational facilities, is more than 90% complete. In the area of housing, though, just 61% of proposed “restoration housing” projects are under construction, and only 2% are complete. For projects to relocate communities en masse to safer ground, construction has begun on 64% of the proposed projects and just 5% are finished.

Iwaki mulls preserving Toyoma junior high as reminder of disaster, fukushima minpo, 3/30/2014

The Iwaki municipal government is considering preservation of the Toyoma Junior High School complex, which was damaged by tsunami in the Great East Japan Earthquake, as a reminder of the disaster for future generations. The local government unveiled the plan at a meeting of a group of local residents in Iwaki on March 29 to report a master plan for areas that include the Toyoma district. The city government will make a final decision on whether to preserve the school after hearing the opinions of local residents. An official of the Fukushima prefectural government said, “Although damaged by tsunami, it is technically possible to preserve the school without demolishing it.”

Under the city’s land readjustment project for post-disaster reconstruction, an open space for disaster prevention is scheduled to be set up in the school’s premises. As a result, the school is slated for relocation to a new building to be constructed close to Toyoma Elementary School.

In connection with the move, the local residents’ group had requested the Fukushima prefectural government and the Iwaki municipal office to preserve the damaged school building from the standpoint of disaster-prevention education. Based on the group’s request, the prefectural government conducted an on-site survey to check the feasibility of preserving the building. It determined through the survey that it is technically possible to use the school building as a disaster reminder without hampering its functions as a disaster-prevention open space.

Majority of Tohoku mayors say recovery slow or nonexistent, japan times, 3/2/14

SENDAI – More than half of the 42 mayors of northeastern cities, towns and villages damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami describe Tohoku’s reconstruction as slow or stalled, a Kyodo News survey said Sunday.

In the survey, conducted in February ahead of the third anniversary of the disasters that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, 22 mayors said the region’s recovery is behind schedule and 17 said it is proceeding as planned. None said the work was ahead of schedule.

The chiefs of the radiation-tainted towns of Namie and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture meanwhile said no progress was being made at all on reconstruction, even though all their residents have fled to avoid the radiation spewed by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

In Iwate and Miyagi, municipality heads said the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure including roads, railway and port facilities has been slow.

Those in Fukushima cited delays in decontamination, compensation and work related to the ongoing nuclear crisis at the plant.

Among the 42 municipality chiefs in the three prefectures covered by the survey, 40 said they think the memory of the calamity has faded among many people.

Many mayors expressed concern that public attention is increasingly shifting from Tohoku’s plight to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The death toll from the March 2011 disasters stood at 15,884 as of Feb. 10, with 2,636 still unaccounted for, according to the National Police Agency.

Residents both relieved and worried as decision made to lift nuclear evacuation order, mainichi, 2/24/14

TAMURA, Fukushima — Residents attending a Feb. 23 briefing on a government decision to lift an evacuation order here showed a mixture of relief and worry.

The decision, made the same day, will on April 1 lift an evacuation order covering the Miyakoji district of the Fukushima Prefecture city of Tamura, imposed after the March 2011 triple-meltdown at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant. The briefing, held by officials from the national and municipal governments, was attended by around 100 people.

Kazuyoshi Akaba, head of the local office of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, said, “The evacuation order interferes with the freedom to choose one’s place of residence guaranteed by the Constitution. For those who want to resume planting rice and repair their homes, the government does not have the right to delay the reconstruction of their lives.”

Akaba said that the government will give across-the-board support to those who choose to return to their homes, adding that whether evacuees decide to return or not is up to them.

Kazuo Endo, a 65-year-old resident whose home is in a part of Miyakoji district with comparatively low radiation levels, acted as representative of the residents at the briefing.

“Without the evacuation order being lifted, home renovation businesses won’t come back,” he said in support of a quick lifting of the evacuation order. He was followed by several calls from others for resumption of farming and measures to combat damage from unfounded rumors about local products being contaminated with radioactive substances.

While only three farming households resumed commercial farming in the district last year, more than 10 are expected to do so this year. Residents involved in farming, commerce and industry showed particular enthusiasm at the briefing about returning to the district.

Meanwhile, Hideyuki Tsuboi, 38, called for decontamination work to be done on a four- to five-meter-high slope by his house. Although decontamination work in residential areas ended in June last year, slopes were exempted over fears the work would cause radioactive materials to escape to other areas, and over concerns for worker safety.

Tsuboi, who has three young daughters, said, “At the last briefing (in October last year), you said that an environment safe for children has been established, but I think you have overlooked some parts of it.”

During a temporary return to his home in the Miyakoji district, his children picked up and played with stones in an area he later heard from his family was not yet decontaminated. While his oldest daughter, who is a third-grader in elementary school, may be able to understand if he tells her not to touch the stones, his 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t understand and could put them in her mouth, Tsuboi said.

“Before turning the discussion towards lifting the evacuation order, I want you to re-examine the situation from the view of a parent,” he added.

When the time limit for staying in his temporary residence runs out in spring next year, Tsuboi plans to move to the city of Fukushima, where his wife’s parents live. Although he knows that decontamination work has lowered radiation levels in the Miyakoji district, he wants to be sure his children are safe.

The briefing ended after about three hours. The expressions of those leaving varied, in testament to the complexity of the situation.

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