Nine months after a historic magnitude 9.0 earthquake unleashed a deadly tsunami that wreaked havoc across Japan's northeast, the nation, armed with $155 billion in funding, is entering a critical stage of the rebuilding effort.
Damaged railways and major
roads are mostly fixed with at least temporary repairs, two-thirds of
ruined ports have been restored and 47,000 households moved from
emergency shelters to temporary housing.
22 million tonnes of rubble, two-thirds have been cleaned up, but final
disposal remains a dangerous challenge because of concerns about
radiation that spewed from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
All the recovery efforts were made possible by initial emergency budgets totalling 6 trillion yen (49.33 billion pounds).
Tokyo and local officials must produce a plan to "build better" to give
the region, long beset by a shrinking and aging population and lack of
investment, a chance of revival.
tsunami-hit area accounts for about 6-7 percent of Japan's economic
output, but the stakes are high for the entire nation. Policymakers,
investors and companies are counting on the rebuilding effort to give
the $5 trillion economy a jolt needed to keep it from sliding back into
recession under the weight of a global slowdown and fears of contagion
from Europe's debt crisis.
and businesses, pessimistic about the region's future however, are
packing up. More than 38,000 residents left the area between March and
August, the biggest exodus since 1969. Of those that remain, 180,000 out
of the region's 5.7 million residents have filed jobless claims between
March and October, 70 percent more than a year earlier.
people who evacuated the area after the disaster won't feel compelled
to return unless they can find stable jobs, so reconstruction without
job creation would be a failure," said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at
Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
"That money will finally flow in is a good news, but it is not a guarantee of a self-sustaining recovery of quake-hit areas."
far the news is not encouraging. Plans to modernise the struggling
fishing industry or move coastal communities to higher ground, a
precondition for large-scale rebuilding and investment, have been slow
bureaucracies, opposition from fishing cooperatives and the need to win
the hearts and minds of sceptical residents are getting in the way.
we can have accords with local people, we cannot proceed with
rebuilding projects because there is a possibility of opposition," says a
regional official in Miyagi, one of the three prefectures worst hit by
the 11 March disaster.
That means it may take months before rebuilding funds start flowing to projects on the ground, local officials say.
OLD BUSINESSES, OLD PEOPLE
national government is promising five-year tax holidays and light-touch
regulation on fishing rights, land use and other issues to those who
will invest in special industrial zones in disaster-hit areas. Foreign
businesses are also eligible.
parks focused on automotive parts or medical equipment production as
well as renewable energy projects such as wind farms are among ideas
proposed by Tokyo.
The process of
deciding what to build and where has only just started and only 10 out
of 19 municipalities requiring rebuilding in Miyagi prefecture have
reconstruction plans ready. In neighboring Iwate, eight out of 12 have
Reconstruction experts say a shortage of qualified planning professionals is one of the obstacles.
fact that many of quake-hit cities and towns are scarcely populated has
made it difficult for local officials to create rebuilding plans on
their own," said Yoshiyuki Aoki, a senior official of the government's
reconstruction office in Tokyo.
says that, whereas the 1995 Kobe quake hit residential areas constantly
under redevelopment, much of the northeast has no recent history of
re-zoning and city planning and lacks experts. Tokyo wants to rectify
that by sending a team of specialists to help, Aoki says.
Re-establishing the fishing industry is another tough question facing planners.
are defending a system that only loosely ties fishermen with processing
firms and retailers, but keeps rivals out and Miyagi governor's
initiative to open the business to outsiders got drowned in protests.
Tabeta, professor of ocean technology and environment at the University
of Tokyo who is assisting with rebuilding of port towns, says
preserving the status quo is self-defeating.
Tax breaks and incentives will only work if Japan opens its protected farming and fisheries to foreigners, experts say.
no magic bullet in sight, spending more on a solid safety net may be
the only way to keep communities intact until revitalisation plans
materialize, says Iwao Sato, sociology of law professor at the
University of Tokyo.
His survey of
the fishing town of Kamaishi showed more than a third of residents were
out of work, compared with a fifth before the quake while the population
of self-employed has fallen to 17 percent from 28 percent.
government has mostly focused on building seabanks, elevating land
levels and other infrastructure development," Sato says. "But more
attention is probably needed on supporting the livelihoods of people
through direct assistance on employment and homes, or else people will