|Two years on and 315,000 Japanese tsunami victims languish in dreary camps
Nearly two years after the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plant explosion that rattled Japan, more than 315,000 of the roughly 470,000 people who fled still live in temporary housing – many of them dreary public units. Piles of debris have yet to be removed. In some places, recovery work has been halted.
In the months after the natural disaster that killed 19,000 and the nuclear plant explosion that spewed killer radiation into the air and the ocean, hopes for a rapid recovery and a national rebirth were frustrated by political paralysis, AFP reports.
Now, two years on and with a new administration in Tokyo, some are daring to believe that better times lie ahead for the stricken northeast.
Monday marks the second anniversary of the 9 magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami that rolled onto the coast of the Tohoku region. Waves battered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, where one by one reactors exploded and went into meltdown, as the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan fiddled and experts around the PM procrastinated. As the meltdown danger grew, workers took hours to find the pressure release valves that could be opened to delay an inevitable explosion. Meanwhile, the Kan government kept the population in the dark about the real radiation dangers, merely suggesting exclusion zones. The world watched in horror as Tokyo politicians controlled the message on the true extent of the dangers to the region and the world.
More than a million homes were destroyed or damaged by the natural disaster.
But hopes that massive infrastructure spending would put the region back on its feet, and reinvigorate a national economy that has suffered more than a decade of growth-sapping deflation, did not materialize.
Debris has largely been cleared from the streets of coastal settlements. But it remains piled up in parks and empty lots.
Nearly 10,000 aftershocks have been recorded, including 736 jolts that measured above magnitude 5.0, some shaking the ground at Fukushima where there are still no permanent fixes for the damaged reactors.
Recovery work in places has stalled, victim sometimes of turf battles between local and national governments, or of indecision in communities unsure whether to rebuild on the same spot or move to higher ground.
Then in December Shinzo Abe swept into the prime minister's office, promising a succession of massive spending programs to speed up reconstruction and boost the national economy.
“We will build a Tohoku in which young people are able to have hearts full of hope,'' said Abe in a recent policy speech.
Norio Kanno, mayor of Iitate village, 40 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, said he and other local leaders have great hopes of the new government.
“It's been said ‘There won't be any recovery of Japan without the recovery of Fukushima,’ ’’ said Kanno, whose village became a radiation hotspot from which its 6,000 residents evacuated.
“We have great expectations of the new government, which appears to be tackling this issue seriously.’’
To be sure, government reconstruction money has already brought an economic and construction boon of sorts to some parts of Tohoku, where consumers whose entire lives had been washed away had to buy everything from fridges to cars.
But many tsunami-hit communities have become fragmented ghosts of their former selves, split by the need for safety and the desire to return to ancestral lands.
Many young people are leaving the region, particularly nuclear-tainted Fukushima where the economy is faltering, to start new lives. Some leave their parents behind, hoping they can one day go back to what they knew.