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2018 September 5 - 11 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Review of counter-disaster measures needed to quickly respond to serious disasters

September 10, 2018

Akahata editorial

Before dawn on September 6, shockwaves from a major earthquake hit Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. Search and rescue activities for the victims still continue there. On September 4, Typhoon Jebi left great destruction in Japan, mainly in the Kansai region. In July, a record heavy rain battered Japan's western regions of Chugoku and Shikoku. Still many residents there are forced to live under restrictive conditions. All these events together have revealed how vulnerable Japan is to natural disasters.

The situation of damage in each disaster is different, but what is common is that an unprecedentedly large-scale disaster devastated local people's daily lives and the foundations of their livelihoods, all of a sudden. Politicians now must review counter-disaster measures and work out a relief program transcending the conventional framework in order to meet the victims' needs.

Evacuees becoming exhausted

Power cuts associated with the major tremor in Hokkaido are gradually being restored and the operations of public transportation has resumed. In the hard-hit quake areas, however, the conventional water supply still remains cut off and is far from full recovery.

The quake victims in evacuation centers cannot relax due to frequent aftershocks. As their life as emergency evacuees may be prolonged, it is necessary for relevant authorities and organizations to keep providing supplies and take more careful and flexible responses so that the evacuees can maintain their emotional and physical health. Landslides and liquefaction caused by the earthquake fully or partially destroyed many houses. Authorities must fully grasp the extent of the damage in order to secure enough housing for all the victims.

The same can also be said for the Kansai region stricken by Typhoon Jebi which triggered fierce winds and storm tides. The damage caused by huge waves, which flooded Kansai International Airport, extended toward the coast of Osaka and Hyogo. Strong winds rampaged through Kyoto and Osaka, causing damage to many houses and some cultural assets as well. Fallen trees cut electricity, causing more than 30,000 houses to still be without electricity. Authorities must obtain the whole picture, including to what extent many local residents and businesses have been affected, in order to take necessary actions.

In areas hit by the severe rainstorm in July, local authorities have begun providing temporary housing to disaster victims. However, in the six disaster-stricken prefectures including Okayama, Hiroshima, and Ehime, about 1,500 residents are still living in emergency shelters.

As a matter of course, the existing legislation and legal framework should be fully utilized and flexibly applied so that the disaster victims can receive support. Furthermore, now is the time to begin discussing support measures that extend beyond the conventional limits.

The disaster victims are in urgent need of financial support to rebuild their homes. However, the current Act Concerning Support for Reconstructing Livelihoods of Disaster Victims falls short of meeting disaster victims’ needs due to inadequate financial assistance and limitations to the scope of application.

When a major earthquake hit the northern part of Osaka in June this year, houses which were designated as “partially damaged” were not covered for compensation under the current law. So, opposition parties in the national Diet jointly submitted a revision bill in order to increase the amount of financial support and expand the coverage of the law. The bill, however, was carried over to the next Diet session. To discuss and immediately enact the bill is vital for disaster recovery.

It is also essential to continue supporting the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, and the 2017 Northern Kyushu Heavy Rain. To work to help all disaster victims restore their livelihoods is the national government’s responsibility.

Call Diet without delay to focus on disaster reconstruction and prevention

This summer, Japan experienced a chain of natural disasters and extreme climate events: earthquakes; heavy rains; and typhoons. This highlights the fact that Japan is a natural disaster-prone country. This summer’s disasters also included the extreme heatwave. Extreme weather events and earthquakes could be defined as “national crises”.

Along with urgent support for disaster victims, a fundamental policy on disaster preparedness should be drawn up through cross-party discussions. It is important to convene an extraordinary Diet session without delay to focus on disaster reconstruction and prevention.

Past related articles:
> Land Minister spends valuable time to discuss casino bill instead of working to assist heavy rain victims [July 11, 2018]
> JCP discusses need for countermeasures following Osaka earthquake [June 20, 2018]
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