Year 6 Tsunami refugees

March 25, 2017

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011:

After six years, the tsunami refugees remain “Kimin”!

It has been 6 years since the massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. Prior to this year’s anniversary date, Yahoo Japan hung a tall banner on the wall of the Sony Building in Tokyo’s Ginza District. (1) A red line on the banner marked the tsunami’s peak height of 16.7 meters, with the words “just this height” next to the line. The banner was intended to spur understanding of just how great the tsunami was. Many on the street were incredulous. One passer-by told the Asahi Shimbun, “I simply cannot imagine a tsunami would reach that height!” The banner also read, “If you just know this height, you can do much more. Let’s not forget that day. That is the most effective disaster preparedness.” But, what about the tsunami refugees? The banner was a stark reminder of the horror inflicted on March 11, 2017.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident holds continual interest with Japan’s Press, largely due to the unscientific hypothesis that low level radiation might be unhealthy. Unfortunately, the real disaster remains largely ignored by Japanese news outlets. But, the week before the anniversary some news outlets post a reminder about the plight still experienced by tsunami refugees.
Six coastal prefectures were hammered by the massive waves that peaked at 16.7 meters (measured in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture) on March 11, 2011. Some estimates say that early one-half million people fled the northeast Honshu (Tohoku) coastline. (2) Unfortunately, not all who fled made it to safety. The National Police Agency reports that 15,883 have been confirmed dead and 2,553 are still listed as missing. Tokyo’s Reconstruction Agency says at least 3,523 subsequent deaths have occurred in ten prefectures due to living as refugees. More than 250,000 were made permanently homeless on that fateful day when their residences were either washed away or otherwise destroyed by the quake and tsunami. About half of them remain in limbo.
The Agency says more than 120,000 Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima residents are still living as evacuees. Over 23,000 temporary housing units have been built for refugees by the government, with another 7,000 either under construction or still in the planning stage. On March 8th, Jiji Press reported that there are 35,000 refugees living in hastily-erected, prefabricated housing. (3) However, reconstruction delays have caused tens of thousands to literally give up and move to other prefectures. NHK World News reported that the 14 worst-hit communities of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima Prefectures have permanently lost 10% of their 2010 populations; nearly 600,000 people have moved away since 2010.
At this point, it should be noted that after the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed nearly 6,500 people, all evacuees had left temporary or otherwise emergency housing within five years! (4) But, in the Tohoku region, tens of thousands of tsunami refugees remain in such dwellings after six years! Two factors behind the delays are slow work to elevate land to a level greater than 16 meters, and landowners holding out for more money.
But, what if the off-shore subduction zone has another sudden, massive slippage? What if another tsunami is generated that is 10…12…or even 15 meters high? Are the communities that were devastated in 2011 protected? The answer is a resounding NO!
Only 22% of the planned sea walls along the Tohoku coast have been completed. (5) The central and local governments had planned to build 405 kilometers of seawalls along the coastline. But only 88 km, or 22 percent, had been completed by Jan. 1st. 263 km were still under construction and work had not begun on the other 54 km of the walls.
50% the shoreline along Fukushima Prefecture remains unprotected, and local officials doubt that the 2020 target date for new sea walls can be met! What could be the reason for the delay? Some residents oppose the new, higher walls because it blocks their view of the sea. The planning for 32 locations had to be revised due to these objections. An official in one of the most impacted cities, Ishinomaki, says, “It took time to build a consensus with local residents” in order to balance safety with maintaining scenery. Nearly 30,000 Ishinomaki residents lost their homes on 3/11/11, and more than 3,000 of them lost their lives. In addition, nearly 2,800 remain listed as missing.
Another stated reason for sea wall delays is a shortage of available construction workers and building materials. A Miyako official says, “A shortage of building materials and human resources is a major factor.” Keep in mind that the populations have been drained by 10%, which surely contributes to the manpower shortage. Further, severely irregular topography in Iwate and Miyagi portions of the Sanriku region adds to the difficulties. Thus in Kesennuma, only 0.7 km of the planned 9.7 km of walls has been completed. (6)
Clearly, a lot of work needs to be done! While the Japanese Press seems to ignore the plight of the thousands upon thousands still in need, (and not because of the Fukushima accident) the international Press has posted virtually nothing! I found one posted by Bloomberg, with a headline suggesting addressing the tsunami aftermath. But, the article almost entirely focused on the Fukushima accident’s sixth anniversary! (7) I would argue that it doesn’t even count! In fact, the popular international news outlets literally dripped with negatively-slanted articles about the relatively well-looked-after, and copiously-compensated Fukushima refugees, but could not be bothered to mention thousands of tsunami refugees who live in virtual squalor. While voluntary Fukushima refugees have been granted free housing by the government since 2011, the emigrated tsunami refugees received nothing!
Mandated Fukushima refugees – every man, woman, and child - continue to get about $9,000 per month in financial compensation; a total of more than $25 billion since 3/11/11. In addition, property owners have been paid a collective total of more than $33 billion, above and beyond their personal compensation. The tsunami refugees get a few hundred dollars per month, if they are lucky.
The Japanese and international Press whine loudly about the hypothetical, and self-inflicted plight of Fukushima’s voluntary evacuees losing their free housing in April! But, is there any news media outcry concerning the plight of the tsunami refugees who have actually suffered since 2011? No!
The tsunami refugees dubbed themselves “Kimin” (forgotten people) more than four years ago, which is documented in my E-book of the same name. It seems these poor unfortunates remain “Kimin” even today…forgotten! Forgotten by Japan! Forgotten by the world!


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