Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Pioneer Tsunami Victims Take Rebuilding Into Own Hands
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Kiyoto Murakami, a builder by trade, squints as he gazes at the sun-drenched hillside where his Iwate Prefecture community has decided to rebuild.
- Moving to higher ground.
"This place sure gets plenty of sun," he says, surveying the south-facing site, once covered by Japanese cedars, for which residents contributed their own money to clear.
The onrushing waters of the March 2011 tsunami swallowed Imaizumi, a section of the city of Rikuzentakata where about 600 households had clustered on what little flat land lies near the river.
The city plans to relocate residents of low-lying areas en masse to higher ground, but the move will take five years to complete. Last summer, seven Imaizumi households decided to pool their land to rebuild on their own.
"Considering that I have an 82-year-old mother, I couldn't wait," explains Murakami, who will soon start work on a two-family house.
Unwilling To Wait
Meanwhile, new homes are going up here and there at the foot of the slope -- not exactly what one would expect in an area designated as at risk of damage from natural disasters. The prefecture has allowed people to build there on the condition that they relocate eventually. One is community leader Takeshi Kanno. Work on his new two-story home began last month.
"When the city takes too long, people get moving themselves," Kanno says.
For about 315,000 people uprooted by the disaster, life as evacuees goes on. Even devastated areas that already have plans to raise land levels or move to higher elevations have yet to begin rebuilding in earnest. No wonder people are taking matters into their own hands.
In the Fukushima Prefecture town of Shinchi, 10 households have banded together to start a new life further inland on farmland they have purchased themselves. The group's leader says their way is cheaper than buying land developed by the town.
All For Nothing
Not all such efforts go well. Thirteen households in a waterfront area of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture fixed up their homes and moved back in, only to have their neighborhood declared part of a disaster risk zone last December.
"If I had known this would happen, I sure wouldn't have done any repairs," says a woman in her 60s who spent about 10 million yen making her home livable again. The tsunami had filled the first floor with water up to the ceiling.
If she joins a group relocation, she would have a guaranteed buyer for her property. But this would not solve all her problems.
"I don't have any money left to build a new home," she says.
Disaster victims of little means face uncertain prospects in finding permanent homes. Iwate and Miyagi are estimated to need about 21,000 units of public housing for evacuees; just 6% are under construction. Ishinomaki -- which will take the biggest share, about 4,000 units -- has not even completed its housing plan.
"When will we be able to live with peace of mind?" wonders a 77-year-old who now resides in temporary housing in the city.
The grinding pace at the administrative level has various causes, both practical and political. Building consensus among residents and negotiating with landowners takes time, and the national government has been slow to earmark grant money.
While the central government will bear the roughly 400 billion yen in construction costs for the public housing, maintaining the properties will fall to local authorities. Some local officials question the wisdom of building infrastructure in areas beset by population decline.
"Most of the people who will live in this housing are elderly," says an official in a coastal community. "Vacancies are sure to rise in the future."
(The Nikkei, March 5 morning edition)