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Tohoku residents leave as reconstruction lags

Reconstruction of housing by the disaster victims is under way in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture.

Publication Date : 04-12-2013


Many disaster victims have moved to other places to begin a new life as there has been little progress in public reconstruction projects, such as collective relocation and construction of public housing units for people who lost their houses in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

This has caused a large population outflow from disaster-affected areas.

Little progress made

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey and a timetable for public reconstruction projects compiled by the Reconstruction Agency, the town government of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, plans to construct a total of 2,236 units of public housing as part of a collective relocation and reconstruction housing complex project. However, none have been completed so far. The Onagawa town government plans to construct 203 units during the current fiscal year. Only 580 units are expected to be built by March 2016, which will mark the fifth anniversary of the disaster. This is only a quarter of the entire project.

An official of the Onagawa government listed several reasons for the slow progress. One is that because there is little safe flatland, it is necessary to construct housing units on higher ground further inland. Another reason is that the registered owners of land on which houses are to be constructed are dead. The Onagawa government is also short of staff who are in charge of negotiations on land procurement and handling contracts. “We are doing our best...We feel sorry for residents,” the official said.

Such a situation is common in other municipalities in the disaster-hit areas. Twenty municipal governments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures will not be able to complete all of their public reconstruction projects by March 2016. As of September, 15,118 units, or 32 percent of planned housing units, were to be constructed in April 2016 or later. The figure was 24,000 units as of December last year.

Although more than 2,000 employees of local governments across the country have been sent to the areas devastated by the disaster to speed up administrative work, little progress has been made.

Too long to wait

The uncertainty about the construction of public housing units and collective relocation for those affected by the disaster has prompted people to rebuild their own houses.

“It’ll take more time to develop land to prepare it for collective relocation. For my children, I could no longer wait,” a 37-year-old construction company president said.

The man lost his grandmother and parents when his house in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, was inundated by the tsunami.

This summer, he moved to a house he bought in Osaki, an inland city in the prefecture. His four children, the eldest of whom is a third-year middle school student, became afraid of the sea after the 2011 calamity, he said.

He initially planned to move to a site in Higashi-Matsushima, which is being prepared for collective relocation for those affected by the disaster, but the development of the land is scheduled to be completed in January 2017, and then following the delivery of the land, he will have to arrange construction of his house, further pushing back his family’s move-in day.

“It’s heartbreaking to leave our ancestral hometown, but I decided to place priority on my family members who survived the disaster,” the man said.

In Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, plans to organise collective relocation and build public housing units have yet to be realised.

Under such circumstances, many residents chose to build houses for themselves.

As a result, the number of public housing units scheduled to be built was reduced by 70 per cent to 1,025 as of late September from 3,068 initially planned as of late December last year.


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