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Editorial: Time to pool local disaster response knowhow to help Kumamoto

There is a serious shortage of local government officials to manage evacuation shelters and distribute supplies to survivors in the wake of the Kumamoto Earthquake. As many local government officials have also been hit hard by the quakes, this personnel shortfall poses a challenge to disaster areas.

Assistance from local governments outside disaster-ravaged regions is one way to help resolve this challenge. Numerous local bodies are voluntarily extending assistance ranging from the provision of relief supplies to dispatching personnel to areas affected by the Kumamoto disaster.

Local governments and their workers should make full use of the experience and knowledge they have accumulated through their support for the restoration of areas devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, as well as lessons they have learned from being affected by disasters themselves.

Cooperation between local governments in disaster response has accelerated since 3/11. Many local bodies hit by that disaster have swiftly extended assistance to regions affected by the Kumamoto Earthquake.

The Sendai Municipal Government, for example, provided disposable diapers and other relief supplies, and the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki sent drinking water and bread to disaster areas immediately after the first temblor struck Kumamoto on April 14. These two municipalities have extended assistance partly in gratitude for the local governments in Kumamoto Prefecture having provided support to them following the Great East Japan Earthquake. These local bodies said they extended help promptly as they had experienced serious shortages of water, foodstuffs and other daily necessities in March 2011.

The Nagaoka Municipal Government in Niigata Prefecture sent temporary dressing rooms made of cardboard to areas hit by the Kumamoto quakes, as evacuee privacy had been a major challenge after the 2004 Chuetsu Earthquake in central Niigata Prefecture. The Hyogo Prefectural Government and other local bodies affected by the January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, meanwhile, have dispatched officials who can assess damage to buildings.

Officials of local governments that have experienced serious disasters are more sensitive about the needs of disaster victims. The association of the mayors of Japan's 20 ordinance-designated major cities has sent approximately 400 officials from these municipalities to help manage evacuation shelters in Kumamoto based on an action plan they drew up after the 2011 disaster.

Despite such assistance from other local bodies, work to sort out and distribute relief supplies arriving at the Kumamoto Prefectural Government and other local government offices fell temporarily behind because of a personnel shortage. Officials dispatched from prefectural governments in the Kyushu and Kansai regions are extending support to the Kumamoto Prefectural Government, but this has not been enough to overcome the worker shortfall. It may be necessary in the future for local governments outside disaster-hit areas to intensively dispatch officials to disaster areas immediately after the outbreak of disasters.

Municipalities hit by the Kumamoto quakes could face a shortage of personnel who can handle the specialized clerical work in restoring disaster-hit areas. Local government officials who provided assistance to areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake have accumulated know-how on disaster relief and recovery. The Japan Association of City Mayors and other relevant organizations should play an active role in coordinating the effective dispatch of personnel to the quake zone.

The national government also bears heavy responsibility for securing enough staff. Local governments affected by the March 2011 disaster have been unable to secure enough workers for ongoing restoration work in the Tohoku region. As such, a shortage of personnel at local bodies affected by disasters could become even more serious unless effective measures are taken to remedy the situation. The central government should consider measures to facilitate local governments' dispatch of officials to regions affected by serious disasters, including the expansion of financial assistance.

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