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No areas at risk of Nankai Trough tsunami apply for housing relocation program

(Mainichi)

None of the 139 municipalities thought to be at risk of tsunami damage in the event of a major Nankai Trough earthquake has applied for a special central government disaster prevention program to relocate public facilities and housing to higher ground, the Cabinet Office has revealed to the Mainichi Shimbun.

The "project to promote group relocation for disaster mitigation" was established in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated many low-lying areas. However, it does not appear to have taken root due to difficulties in obtaining consensus from residents, and because construction of new homes would cost a lot. In the meantime, some residents have given up on applying for the program and are moving to higher ground themselves.

The project is designed to have people move in groups to homes on safer ground, in exchange for municipalities buying the residents' land. It is available for each group of 10 homes or more. The central government covers three-quarters of the cost of buying the residents' land and developing land for new homes. In addition, it provides subsidies to assist in interest payments when people buy their new homes, and to help cover the cost of moving.

Under the special measures law to counter a Nankai Trough earthquake, the government in 2014 designated 139 municipalities extending from the Kanto region through to Kyushu as "areas for special reinforcement of tsunami evacuation measures," expanding subsidies for the cost of projects to promote relocation as a special provision. At the same time, the central government decided to subsidize three-quarters of the cost of acquiring land when local bodies relocate schools and hospitals at the time the residents move.

However, as the former home districts are designated as disaster danger zones where new homes cannot be built, and because support for buying news homes is limited, the program has hardly been used. A survey by the Mainichi Shimbun found that five municipalities had considered applying for the program, but three of them later abandoned the idea. The remaining two -- the Wakayama Prefecture towns of Kushimoto and Kozagawa -- are still considering applying but have no immediate prospects for doing do.

In the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Numazu, the Uchiura Omosu area, which houses about 120 households, had initially considered a group relocation to higher ground, as a tsunami up to 10 meters high is predicted to hit the area in the event of a Nankai Trough quake. During a general residents association meeting, around 80 percent of roughly 90 participating households agreed to the move, but due to the weight of costs at the new location, residents started to drop out, and the project came to a standstill. Even so, residents met over 100 times, and based on prefectural government alterations to part of a project to rezone agricultural land on higher ground, seven households are set to move in fiscal 2021.

Hokkaido University professor Suguru Mori, who has supported the area, commented, "We need to create a system in which people can discuss the issues while receiving advice on future plans for towns from experts."

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