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After tsunami, a second reconstruction
The March 11, 2011earthquake, which is termed as an “unprecedented complex disaster,” was also a once-in-a-thousand-year tsunami, which damaged the reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing subsequent disasters costing tens of billions of dollars, demolishing houses, shops, industrial complexes, schools, hospitals, etc., which took 15,894 lives, with 2,557 missing.
In the post-tsunami period, the people of Japan spared no effort to help their fellow citizens to get back to normal life. There are many stories about their selflessness, honesty and discipline, which are not mentioned here due to shortage of space.
The main thrust of this article is to depict the efforts of the Japanese government to reconstruct the damaged areas. The government of Japan established a new governmental agency, the Reconstruction Agency, in February 2012, to reconstruct the damaged areas.
I visited the agency and discussed the matter of reconstruction with Mr. Shinya Fujita, Counselor, Press and Public Relations/International Affairs, Reconstruction Agency, and Ms. Ayaka Hosokawa, Official, Press and Public Relations/International Affairs, Reconstruction Agency.
Mr. Fujita said that the agency was established to reconstruct the affected areas within ten years, and approximately 320 billion USD have been allocated to this agency to complete the job until 2021.
The agency has three secretaries coming from three ministries, i.e. the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
The agency has done a relatively satisfactory job, he said. Thus far, schools, hospitals, and roads have almost been restored.
Another achievement of the agency is that “The number of people who had to leave their homes was reduced from 470,000 to less than 140,000. About 50,000 are living in prefabricated housing; others have either leased houses or are living with relatives. Most affected people are elderly; we must provide them with housing and, hence, we must complete the housing project until 2018,” said Mr. Fujita.
The restoration of housing through public houses and reallocation to upland will be completed by March 2018, he added.
The occurrence of another tsunami in the near future is unlikely, he said, adding, “We have not allowed the people to reconstruct their houses on the rim of the ocean. They should build their houses on the upland, or they must construct wave-breaking walls. Most of the walls will be five to six meters high, for a tsunami height is less than seven meters. The walls will prevent damage to buildings.
However, we are encouraging people to construct their buildings on uplands.”
Another preventive measure by the Reconstruction Agency is the allocation of coastline areas to building shops.
“People do not sleep in their shops, and in case of tsunami, they can evacuate their shops,” said Mr. Fujita.
There are many areas to be reconstructed; it is not merely houses and shops; rather, the onshore industry, marine industries, ports, and fisheries that were washed away must be reconstructed. Several measures have been taken to bring normal life back to the affected areas. Some of these measures have helped normalization of life in many areas, but despite some positive developments, the effects of the nuclear power station accident sill remain. In the agricultural field, very good measures have been taken to decontaminate the soil as well as vegetation and farmlands.
Among positive developments, one can mention a decrease in radioactive elements (65% less in five years) due to decontamination and natural decay.
Due to the above and other measures, the evacuation orders are to be lifted gradually and, except for “difficult-to-return-to zones,” all evacuation orders will be lifted by March 2017, Mr. Fujita said.
Five years after the tsunami, only five percent of the total area of Fukushima Prefecture is under an evacuation order. In other words, people in 95 percent of the prefecture can live a normal life. The reconstruction will not be limited to the retrieval of the conditions of the pre-tsunami level, but Fukushima will become a basis for production of energy from renewable sources, including hydrogen and solar energy, Mr. Fujita said.