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Disaster survivors expected to still live in temporary housing in fiscal 2019: survey

A man puts his hands together for a relative who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, at a temporary charnel house in Taihaku Ward, Sendai, on March 10, 2016. The structure was built at the initiative of Kannonji Temple in the Yuriage district of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, which was destroyed in the tsunami. (Mainichi)

Survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake living in temporary prefabricated housing units are expected to still be living there through fiscal 2019, according to the governments of four municipalities, illustrating serious delays in the return of survivors to normal living conditions.

    The Mainichi Shimbun distributed questionnaires to 48 municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, from December last year through February this year. Forty-four of the municipalities had people living in temporary housing.

    The prefabricated units used as temporary housing have poor living conditions and under the Building Standards Act are generally designed for only two years of use, but since the disaster five years ago they have been having their usage period extended each year.

    In response to the question of when all the people living in temporary housing units there are expected to be moved out, the municipalities of Yamada and Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture and Ishinomaki and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture answered fiscal 2019. Thirteen other municipalities, mainly in Fukushima Prefecture, answered that they had no time schedule. The others answered that residents were expected to be moved out by fiscal 2018.

    The number of people living in temporary housing units is down from its peak of 116,623, but as of the end of February this year there were still 57,677 people residing in temporary housing units. In contrast, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 there was a maximum of about 47,000 households living in temporary housing, all of whom moved out within five years.

    According to the National Police Agency, by the end of last year the number of those who died alone while living in temporary housing reached 84 in Miyagi Prefecture, 66 in Fukushima Prefecture and 52 in Iwate Prefecture. Of them, 116, or about 60 percent, were aged 65 or older.

    Many of the people in temporary housing move into newly constructed, publically-managed housing called "reconstruction housing," but as of the end of January this year only 53 percent of such housing was completed, not counting housing intended for Fukushima Prefecture's evacuees from the nuclear disaster. Delays in preparations for building the reconstruction housing in upland areas, as well as increases in construction material prices, are slowing the construction of the new housing. A Mainichi Shimbun investigation also found 16 people had died alone in reconstruction housing.

    This fiscal year marks the end of a five-year concentrated recovery period during which the national government spent around 26 trillion yen on construction and other recovery efforts. Fiscal 2016 is supposed to be the start of a new five-year period that combines recovery and revitalization, but there continue to be 174,471 people living under evacuation from their pre-disaster municipalities, showing a long road to recovery ahead.

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