Intensive Deliberations on Quake Relief: Govt, Parties Should Strive to Alleviate Uncertainty about Future

In the bitter cold of winter, many disaster victims remain stuck living as evacuees. It is necessary to resolve their uncertainty about the future. The government and the ruling and opposition parties need to work together to rebuild their lives and restore infrastructure.

The budget committees of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors held intensive deliberations on the response to the Noto Peninsula Earthquake.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “We will do our utmost to rebuild their lives and restore their jobs.”

The government plans to finalize comprehensive measures to support the affected people by the end of this week, and intends to decide to spend about ¥150 billion from the reserve funds of the fiscal 2023 budget as financial resources to back up the spending.

In the support measures, the government will include the construction of temporary wooden housing in addition to prefabricated housing to provide a better living environment. A subsidy program will also be included for small and midsize businesses involved in tourism, fishing and other industries to restore their facilities.

It is vital to continue attentive support for the revival of afflicted areas in and around the Noto Peninsula.

During the intensive deliberations, the ruling and opposition parties made proposals based on the actual conditions in the affected areas, and constructive exchanges took place as well.

In order to receive public assistance, affected people need a disaster victim certificate that indicates the extent of damage to their houses. However, in some areas, the issuance of such certificates has been delayed because local governments cannot keep up with the increasing number of applications for certificates.

In response to a request from coalition partner Komeito for simplification of the procedures to issue disaster victim certificates, Kishida indicated his intention to use aerial photographs to certify entire areas all at once as having been “completely destroyed.” He also suggested dispatching central government employees to various afflicted areas to speed up local government operations.

The most serious problem in afflicted areas in and around the Noto Peninsula is that running water has not been restored in eight cities and towns, including Wajima and Suzu.

Water is being supplied to a minimal extent by water trucks and other means, but this is not sufficient. Many medical institutions have stopped providing medical care services, and many fishermen have been unable to resume fishing because their ice-making machines do not work.

The largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, has said the restoration of the water supply must be the top priority. Kishida explained that the central government is mobilizing water service providers from all over the country to the affected areas.

The Ishikawa prefectural government has announced that the restoration of the water supply will be delayed until April or later in some areas. It is hoped that, with the help of water service providers in other parts of the country, the prefectural government will aim for a restoration ahead of the announced schedule.

Opposition parties called for a doubling or a substantial increase in the maximum amount of “support funds to reconstruct livelihoods for affected people,” which provides assistance for housing repairs and other purposes. This is because the maximum amount of ¥3 million per household has remained unchanged since 2004.

Securing housing is critical to rebuilding affected people’s lives. Also, compared to 20 years ago, building materials have soared in price. A certain increase may be worth considering.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2024)