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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 March 8 - 14  > 3/11 disaster victims still in need of government support
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2017 March 8 - 14 TOP3 [POLITICS]

3/11 disaster victims still in need of government support

March 11, 2017
Akahata editorial

Six years have passed since the powerful earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku region. The number of those killed or still missing totals about 20,000. The 2011 disaster, which also induced the nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, caused severe damage over a wide area. More than 120,000 people are still forced to live lives as evacuees. Reconstruction efforts at both the national and local levels are far behind schedule. Having been away from their hometowns so long, disaster victims are facing ever more complex and ever more serious problems.

Under this situation, the government led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is trying to cut back support for the disaster-hit areas, raising victims’ concerns and irritation. As long as these victims need public support, the government should continue responding to their demands.

Victims fear future increase in rent payments

Local governments in the disaster-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima are constructing public housing units for sufferers who are facing difficulties in rebuilding their damaged houses. So far, they finished building around 70-80% of the planned number of units to be built and provided them to the victims. However, after moving from rent-free temporary housing to newly-built public housing, many evacuees are facing difficulties in paying the rent. In response to their demand to mitigate the impact of this burden, the national government established a financial support program which allows evacuees to pay a reduced amount of the rent for ten years after moving into public housing. Under this program, the amount will be gradually increased after the sixth year. In some cases, residents in their eleventh year in public housing will have to make a rent payment three-times higher than what they are now paying. Pensioners and those who are struggling to find a job are filled with anxiety. The national government should consider offering reduced rent for more than ten years or setting up other support measures concerning housing expenses.

As many as 35,000 people are living in prefabricated temporary housing units which are becoming less and less serviceable. These residents should be given support to improve their living environment. It is also important to take measures to help people who live in their partially damaged homes. For example, some live in houses where they repaired partly-collapsed walls with cardboard and others have yet to fix their damaged bathrooms. These victims used public support just to implement limited, makeshift repairs to their houses soon after the 2011 disaster and were exempted from applying for temporary housing or public housing for evacuees. Helping the victims secure a place to live is essential to promote recovery from the disaster. The need is to improve the law to assist the reconstruction of disaster victims’ livelihoods so that a wider range of victims can receive financial support and beneficiaries can be awarded a larger amount of support.

Prolonged life as evacuees is physically and emotionally exhausting. The Miyagi Prefectural Democratic Medical Institutions (Min-iren, Miyagi) surveyed victims living in public temporary housing in four cities and three towns regarding worries in their lives. The top answer was “health issues”. According to an organization working to help the 2011 disaster victims in Miyagi, some said, “The tsunami swept away everything I had, but I got in return intestinal cancer. My financial situation has become very difficult” and “In addition to losing my job, I now cannot live without tranquilizers due to severe anxiety.” These sufferers are in desperate need of a reduction in their medical fees and nursing-care service charges. The government should immediately reinstitute the now-terminated exemption measures to them.

Public services to help restore their lives are lagging far behind. However, the Abe-led government intends to cut off support for them, saying, “Reconstruction in the affected regions has reached a new stage.” His administration has been imposing part of government reconstruction project expenses onto local municipalities since April last year by calling for their “independence and self-reliance”.

On top of that, the government is further promoting nuclear energy and planning to lift the evacuation order and discontinue compensation payments and support all at once. This is as if Abe is saying to the Fukushima sufferers, who have been forced out of their hometowns due to the still-uncontained nuclear crisis, “That accident has become a thing of the past.” It is absolutely unacceptable for the government and TEPCO to take such an irresponsible attitude.

Beyond conventional programs

Six years have passed since the disaster. The disaster victims still have to cope with difficulties to fully restore their lives and regain their jobs because the government has been refusing to take appropriate measures to lessen their hardships.

When it comes to an unprecedented catastrophe, a flexible and bold approach that goes beyond the existing programs or services is needed. The Abe government stance of neglecting to do so should be called into question. “We don’t want anyone to experience the same suffering we are experiencing now.” This is the desperate demand of the 2011 disaster victims. To meet this demand is what the government should do.
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