The Yomiuri Shimbun
Six months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.
Recovery and reconstruction efforts have been continuing in disaster-hit areas. But the scars left by the massive earthquake and tsunami are so profound that many affected municipalities have yet to draw up blueprints to rebuild their areas.
In areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, where evacuation orders have been issued, municipal government offices and residents were uprooted en masse. No prospect is in sight for their return home.
In his first news conference after taking office, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said recovery and reconstruction of the disaster-stricken areas and measures to end the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant are at the top of his administration's agenda. After inspecting the crippled plant Thursday, Noda pledged to Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato his government's commitment to swiftly decontaminate areas affected by radioactive material released by the nuclear power plant.
People in disaster-hit areas became increasingly impatient with the slow response to the disaster by the previous Kan administration. The current administration must provide swift, strong and visible support for recovery and reconstruction of the devastated areas.
Debris disposal key issue
Nearly 4,000 residents died or went missing in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which had a pre-disaster population of 160,000.
With debris removal completed in the city center, shops have resumed business there. Residential streets and principal roads have also been cleared of debris.
But in suburban areas, debris lies scattered on farmland and elsewhere and has been piled up in temporary storage locations. Painstaking efforts were reportedly made to eradicate the swarms of flies infesting the garbage.
The dismantling of wrecked houses and office buildings will add to the heaps of debris, overwhelming the capacity of temporary storage places. Through consultations with the prefectural government, the municipal government is accelerating efforts to build a new incinerator and select a final debris disposal center.
Disposal of the huge amount of debris hampers reconstruction. The central government must do everything it can to reduce the financial burdens of local governments.
The reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture cannot be completed without ending the nuclear crisis. Stable cooling of the reactors is under way and almost no new radioactive substances are reportedly being released. By January without fail, the reactors must be cooled so their inner temperatures are stabilized at less than 100 C.
Decontamination is indispensable to bring about the day when evacuated residents can return home. Even in areas not subject to evacuation, there are places where radioactive contamination is high enough to cause health concerns among residents.
Soil improvement must be carried out immediately at school grounds and on agricultural land. Removing the surface soil up to a depth of five centimeters will reduce radioactive cesium levels to just one-tenth, experts say. By replacing this soil with untainted earth, radioactive cesium contamination will be reduced to one-hundredth, they say.
The government should take the lead in promoting decontamination work without farming it out to local governments.
Disaster victims need jobs
Although production at factories and related facilities has begun to recover, the employment situation in the disaster-hit areas remains severe. More than 70,000 people are estimated to have lost their jobs in the three disaster-hit Tohoku prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.
Job offers have been on the rise as workers are being sought for reconstruction projects. Many people, however, cannot find work to suit the job skills they acquired before the disaster. As unemployment benefit payments for many of them will expire soon, it is vital to create new full-fledged jobs through a wide variety of reconstruction projects.
Hospitals and nursing care facilities sustained tremendous damage in the disaster. Even before the disaster, the affected regions have long suffered a serious shortage of doctors, and the region's residents have continued to age.
Although a number of medical and nursing care professionals have provided emergency support over the past six months, this cannot continue for much longer.
Making the best possible use of such information technologies as electronic patient files and deploying medical personnel efficiently would make medical and nursing care services more effective.
The government should take speedy legislative steps and extend financial assistance to set up a medical and nursing service special zone to provide advanced services by an adequate number of medical professionals.
Construction of temporary housing has made considerable progress, allowing many disaster victims to move out of evacuation centers. However, it is important to provide the victims with a proper range of care after they move into temporary housing or other publicly operated housing facilities.
After the Great Hanshin Earthquake, many elderly persons died after being left unattended in temporary housing. This should never be repeated.
As of Friday, the number of deaths in the Great East Japan Earthquake stood at 15,780, while 4,122 remain missing.
We sincerely pray for the souls of those who perished in the disaster and hope that those still missing will be found as soon as possible.
In Japan, which can be called a "disaster archipelago," Typhoon No. 12 left more than 100 people dead or missing earlier this month. We are sure many people in the past six months have felt anew the horror of natural disasters and the importance of preparing such calamities.
On Sept. 1, Disaster Prevention Day, about 510,000 people took part in disaster drills in 35 prefectures, including Tokyo and Hokkaido.
Some companies and public organizations carried out such practical exercises as confirming the safety of all personnel, as well as drills conducted on the assumption that many of their personnel were unable to return home in the aftermath of a massive disaster.
In its most recent opinion survey, The Yomiuri Shimbun asked people what measures they had taken after the March 11 disaster. Allowed multiple answers, many respondents cited "stockpiling of drinking water and food" and "confirmation of how family members can keep in touch with each other" in the event of a disaster.
Asked what they wanted the central and local governments to do in the event of a disaster, more than 50 percent of the respondents replied--again allowed multiple answers--they wanted "safety measures taken at nuclear power plants" and "ensuring safe evacuation routes and evacuation facilities."
We believe the lessons learned from the March 11 disaster should better prepare people in the future to swiftly and safely evacuate in the event of a disaster and to cooperate more closely with each other to deal with any hardships they might encounter.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 10, 2011)
(Sep. 11, 2011)