December 13, 2013

A significant number of Japan’s tsunami refugees have given up and permanently moved elsewhere. Of the 300,000 whose homes were swept away by the raging torrent, more than 20% have moved to other parts of Japan: mostly young families that no longer hope their plight will ever be alleviated. Reports on tsunami victim suffering are few and far between inside Japan, and non-existent outside the island nation. Meanwhile, regular reports are posted, both inside and outside Japan, on the Fukushima evacuees, which are emotionally-oriented and us journalistic “cherry-picking” to make their condition seem deplorable. However, an objective comparison between the tsunami refugees and Fukushima evacuees paints a very disturbing, and downright infuriating picture.

First, we look at the tsunami refugees. The plight of a construction company executive in Miyagi Prefecture seems to be not uncommon. His home along the shoreline of Higashi-Matsushima was lost to the black-water surge on 3/11/11. The now-deposed Naoto Kan government promised 27,000 temporary housing units for Tohoku’s displaced families, but only a few hundred have been completed. This past summer, the man gave up and bought a house in Osaki, far inland from his ancestral home. His four children, the eldest of whom is a third-year middle school student, became afraid of the sea after the 2011 calamity. He wanted them to return home and resolve their fears, but the lack of promised government support forced him to give up. The land along the shore will not be ready for reconstruction before 2017 at the earliest. If it becomes available, he would have to buy property himself and build a new home out of his own pocket. “It’ll take more time to develop land to prepare it for collective relocation. For my children, I could no longer wait. It’s heartbreaking to leave our ancestral hometown, but I decided to place priority on my family members who survived the disaster,” he said.

With most other Miyagi locations, the situation is similar – the promised reconstruction has not manifested. The swept-away community of Natori has long-planned on collective relocation and government-funded housing units, but none of it has happened. Many residents have given up, moved elsewhere and built homes out of their personal savings and/or through expensive loans. Initially, 3,068 Tokyo-funded housing units were planned for Natori, but the town officials now say they will need only 1,025 because so many people have left in frustration.

One Miyagi community is more optimistic, but the process of reconstruction stagnates nonetheless. Onagawa, with over 1,000 listed as killed or missing due to the tsunami, planned on building more than 2,200 refugee housing units. To date, none have been completed. The town government hopes that about 200 units will be finished in 2014. They want for 580 units by March 2016, but it doesn’t look good. Officials say the delays have been due to precious little flatland for rebuilding. Further, many of the registered property owners are among the dead and/or missing, so the land cannot be sold until their estates are settled. One official said, “We are doing our best…We feel sorry for residents.” To most Onagawa refugees, these words provide little solace.

At least 20 major municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures report comparable unrealized promises. Only a few hundred of the 27,000 Tokyo-pledged housing units have been built. The prefectures optimistically estimate that about 15,000 might be done by April 2016, but they fear it will probably be much less. Officials in the three prefectures estimate they actually need about 75,000 units to accommodate the tsunami refugees remaining in the area, but they fear that such a large number will never be realized. On top of all of the empty housing promises, tsunami refugees receive only $400-600 per month to help them with temporary housing and other living costs – a fact posted in this commentary several times in the past.

Next, let’s look at the Fukushima evacuees. 17,000 emergency housing units have been built for the roughly 84,000 evacuees that so-qualify. Yes…they were literally slapped together as prefabricated units, and about 300 of them need repairs per month. However, when compared to the number of units built for tsunami victims…well…let’s face it…there is no comparison! As far as temporary housing is concerned, the Fukushima evacuees are far, far better-off than the tsunami refugees.

Perhaps even more importantly, Tepco and Tokyo’s financial records show that each Fukushima evacuee receives $7,500 per month in general compensation. They have each recently been awarded a lump-sum of $75,000 for psychological injury. In addition, Tokyo wants another lump-sum pay-out of up to $60,000 for emotional damage to each of the ~25,000 mandated evacuees the government expects to remain estranged for at least another 5 years. In contrast, the world’s Press continually posts reports concerning what appears to be a minority of Fukushima refugees with financial problems.

These are but a few examples of how the Press cherry-picks problems experienced by some Fukushima evacuees, makes them seem to be endemic, and ignores the far greater plight of the tsunami refugees. No wonder many of the tsunami refugees who seriously want to go home are reluctantly leaving. No wonder the majority of the Fukushima refugees say they don’t want to go home, but remain in temporary housing and other local facilities. Tokyo’s Recovery Agency says about $50 billion has been spent on the Tohoku region’s refugee assistance. $30 billion has been paid-out to the 84,000 nuke accident refugees, thousands of which could go home right now but choose to remain estranged. The remaining ~$20 billion has been given to the 300,000 tsunami refugees who will never go home.

Do the numbers.

There’s something terribly wrong here.

The world’s Press doesn’t seem to give a damn and the Tokyo government avoids any mention of this gross disparity. Why? It’s simple. With the tsunami refugee situation, there’s no radiation with which to promote fear, uncertainty and doubt. It seems the world’s Press wants everyone to think all is going great with the tsunami victims and horrible with the Fukushima evacuees. How long will this smokescreen be allowed to persist?


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