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76% of municipalities in 3 hard-hit Japan quake areas not completed reconstruction work

The city center of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, is seen with lights shining on land that was raised, on March 9, 2021. The commercial complex Abasse Takata is seen in the foreground, while in the background center is the former roadside rest station Tapic45, which has been designated as a relic of the disaster, and in the back right is the Takatamatsubara Memorial Park. Some vacant lots are also seen. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

TOKYO -- Of the 42 municipalities in the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima that suffered extensive damage from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear plant disaster, 76% will not complete their reconstruction projects by the end of fiscal 2020, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

    Those incomplete projects include the development of infrastructure close to the lives of residents, such as the improvement of farmland, parks, and fishing ports. In addition to the fact that evacuation orders have not been lifted in some areas due to the nuclear accident, the spread of the coronavirus has caused delays in construction. In the affected areas, reconstruction is still underway as the 10th anniversary of the disaster approaches on March 11.

    The questionnaire was distributed in January 2021 and replies were received from all municipalities. In response to a question about the number of reconstruction projects that will not be completed by the end of fiscal 2020, 32 municipalities either listed the number or answered that they were "under scrutiny," indicating that the projects were not yet finished. Seven municipalities (Hirono, Noda, Fudai, and Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, and Rifu, Natori, and Watari in Miyagi Prefecture) have no incomplete projects. The remaining three municipalities said it was "difficult to indicate the degree of reconstruction."

    In Fukushima Prefecture, where the effects of the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station are still lingering, the town of Futaba, where people are still unable to live, reported that "almost all" of its reconstruction projects have yet to be completed. The town of Okuma, where many areas remain designated as "difficult-to-return" zones due to high levels of radiation, similarly reported that "many" of its reconstruction projects have not been completed.

    Five cities blamed the spread of the coronavirus as the reason for not completing the projects, including Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture, which said, "Due to the effects of the coronavirus, it required an unpredictable number of days to arrange for materials and workers." Four cities and villages also cited the impact of a strong typhoon in 2019, which caused extensive damage in eastern Japan, as a reason for delays in their projects.

    While infrastructure restoration projects carried out by municipalities are still in progress, most of the large-scale reconstruction work is almost finished. According to the Reconstruction Agency, all urban development projects, such as relocation of residential areas to higher ground, raising of land, and construction of public disaster housing, were completed by the end of 2020. In addition, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reports that 86% of the 550 kilometers of reconstruction roads and reconstruction support roads have been opened to traffic, and the remaining 77 kilometers will be open by the end of 2021.

    This photo taken by a drone shows a seawall constructed along the coastline in Ogatsu area, Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture on Feb. 26, 2021. To the far right is a residential area built on high ground. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

    Meanwhile, the national government revised the basic policy for reconstruction at a Cabinet meeting on March 9. It includes initiatives for the "second period of reconstruction and creation" covering five years from fiscal 2021. Under the revised policy, the government recognizes that heavy-duty construction work is nearly completed in the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and the focus will be shifted to intangible work such as psychological care and support for the victims.

    In the areas affected by the nuclear power plant accident, meanwhile, the government will promote the return of local residents as well as relocation of outsiders to such areas. As for the method of disposing of the contaminated water from the plant, which the government has reportedly sought to release into the ocean, the government says it will "reach a conclusion at an appropriate time."

    The Reconstruction Agency plans to release the reconstruction know-how it has gained through the disaster by the end of March. The agency will establish an organization in fiscal 2021 to collaborate with the Cabinet Office's disaster management section in the event of major disasters in the future.

    (Japanese original by Shunsuke Sekiya, City News Department)

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