Fukushima evacuees are given considerable sympathetic coverage by the Press while tsunami refugees are essentially ignored. The tsunami of 3/11/11 made more than 250,000 Japanese instantly itinerant with no hope of ever returning to their homes…because their domiciles were either swept away or utterly destroyed. In the 3.5 years since that horrible day, precious little has been done to assuage their suffering. A few Japanese Press outlets cover the issue in their March quake/tsunami anniversary articles, but I have seen nothing of any substance about this in the western news media…until now. (1)
Tokyo has provided more than $50 billion in recovery and reconstruction funds to the Tohoku region, but more than $30 billion languishes in local banks. Why? Because of political indifference at the local level to skyrocketing construction costs, greedy landowners trying to get rich, and the siphoning-off of local workers to build facilities for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. Of the 29,000 housing units planned by the government in 2011, only 2,700 have been completed. The average cost of building a Tohoku home before the black wall of water hit was $158,000, but it has ballooned to more than $217,000. “We are struggling to keep up with the rise in costs,” Michio Oka, a section chief in Ishinomaki’s reconstruction office, told Reuters. “Because of the sharp rise in material and labor costs we have failed to attract contractors.”
The money to effect recovery exists, but it lays dormant in local lending institutions. One bank, 77 Bank in Sendai, has been flooded with about $17 billion from Tokyo since 2011. But, because the money has not been used, the institution has invested the funds in short-term government bonds. The investments are now worth ~$20 billion. All of the Tohoku banks in this situation are doing the same thing. By buying government bonds, the banks’ investments are essentially helping to fund the borrowing that the government undertook to make the allocations in the first place. The Tokyo has issued $130 billion worth of reconstruction bonds over the last three years, but most of it is untouched and collecting interest. Bank officials say the money will not be withdrawn soon because building projects face on-going delays. Ryutaro Katsube, a spokesman for the Bank of Iwate, said, “It’s almost certain reconstruction efforts will not be completed within the national government’s five-year period. Municipalities are already asking for extensions.” Meanwhile, Makoto Kitamura, the deputy director general of the Reconstruction Agency which hands out nearly $1 billion per month for Fukushima evacuee compensation, says reconstruction “is a time-consuming process” and is a “result of going through the necessary process.”
Tell that to the people who suffer! Mitsue Sasaki has been living in a flimsy, prefabricated “temporary” home for three years, and says, “We feel abandoned and forgotten. They think they can keep us here forever.” Mitsuko Muramatsu 67, an ex-tax office official, said, “I was allocated a flat, but so what? Right now it’s a cloud, it’s an empty space.” Ishinomaki Mayor Kameyama says, “I’m worried that many people are becoming weak and depressed. If they don’t stay healthy and lose the will to move to a new place, it will be a huge problem.”
If the Tohoku refugee situation was the case with Fukushima evacuees, the Press would be screaming bloody murder and media-hungry politicians would be calling for investigations. More than $43 billion has been dispersed to the 75,000 Fukushima evacuees, and tens of thousands of temporary dwellings have been built for them at government expense while they allegedly await permission to return home…if they want to go home. Surveys show that more than half do not plan on going home because they are afraid, but continue to reap the financial benefits of their politically-imposed estrangement. Tens of thousands of others live in rental apartments, also paid for by the Government and Tepco. Tokyo recently approved the continuation of these pay-outs for up to another ten years. Meanwhile, the 90,000 tsunami refugees who have not given up and moved away, all want to go home. Plus their measly $400 per month per person is set to expire in March of 2015.
The overt duality of the situation cannot be stated strongly enough. Those politically ordered to leave their perfectly in-tact homes based on purely hypothetical health risks are given far more support and assistance than those who actually lost everything – forever – to a massive tsunami. It is a socio-political obscenity. Until the world’s other governments and Press place the plight of the tsunami victims under the same microscope as with Fukushima evacuees, this moral and ethical outrage will continue to fester.