Monday, June 13, 2011

the holdup

From the blog Foreign Volunteers Japan, posted June 10 (reprinted from Yomiuri Daily newspaper):

Less than half of the more than 80 billion yen in disaster-relief donations already sent to prefectures affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami has reached the hands of people waiting for urgently needed cash to rebuild their shattered lives.

To be paid, a person needs a disaster victim certificate. To get a certificate, one must undergo an inspection. The problem is that there is not enough staff to handle the issuing of the certificates, which has severely slowed up distribution of the donation money.

Click here to read the full article. (Foreign Volunteers Japan is also a Facebook Group. And here's a link to its Ongoing Volunteer Opportunities page. There are so many organizations out there striving to help fix the unfixable. )

Facts and figures:
Municipalities in Miyagi prefecture have paid out just 28% of the 33.1 billion yen they've received in donations; in Fukushima, the rate is higher: 61% of the 35 billion yen received has been distributed. In Iwate prefecture, 47% of 10.2 billion yen has gone out to victims.

This is interesting: If your house was completely destroyed, you get 350,000 yen. Partial damage, either by tsunami or fire: 180,000 yen.

But there's another issue in all this. It's my understanding from Peace Boat that local governments at least in Miyagi prefecture have yet to determine whether certain areas should be rebuilt. Those residents who receive their compensation and move forward with reconstruction without awaiting official word on this could end up being told to relocate, their streets declared unsafe. How long can people wait? Not just for the money, but to find out the fate of their neighborhoods?

It's a fair question. But rebuilding in the same spot that got swept away with the March 11 tsunami seems, well shortsighted. But it wouldn't be the first time. This Japan Times article looks at several communities that refused to leave low-lying areas despite previous wipe-outs. Yoshihama in Iwate prefecture was an exception -- only four houses were lost and only one person died on March 11, because the town had relocated its homes to higher ground after the devastating tsunami of 1896. For other towns it took a double whammy -- 1896 and again in 1933 -- to convince people to consider moving. According to the article, in those other towns the fishermen were inclined to prioritize convenience over an uncertain threat, and so they returned to resettle again on lower ground close to the sea. Then others would follow the fishermen's lead.

At a party the other night I was talking to someone (who's in a position to know about these things) about the frustrations of assisting with the relief and recovery efforts, and he said that this resistance to leave the coast will not change even now. The fisherman from these small towns on the Tohoku coast simply do not want to live away from where their boats are docked.

Another thing this guy said: without qualification, the Japanese government has failed the people of Tohoku "on every level," in the way they've responded (or not) to the events of three months ago. The best way for somebody to help out is not to go through "proper channels" but to find out what is needed in a particular place (by talking to somebody who's on the ground, officially or not), to acquire those things, and then to drive them up north and hand them out yourself. My friend Lisa, along with her husband and some friends, did exactly that last weekend. Here is a photo of her after one of her supermarket runs:

I was skeptical of these kinds of rogue relief operations but I'm not anymore. I should point out that Lisa knows somebody who'd been living in the area for three months who could direct and guide her. I still think that's important, to have contacts like that. Avoid the red tape, play the gaijin card.

I just wish I had a car. And a license to drive in Japan. And kids who could fend for themselves, or a full time nanny.

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