Areas Hit by 2011 Tohoku Disaster Suffer Population Loss

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Priests console the souls of victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami by the sea in Sendai on Friday.

Saturday marks the 12th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but reconstruction efforts are being frustrated by a rapid drop in the population of the disaster-stricken areas.

According to the National Police Agency and other organizations, 18,423 people were killed or went missing as a direct result of the disaster, and 3,792 more died due to difficulties following evacuation. The roughly 120,000 temporary housing units present in the three affected prefectures at peak need have fallen to about 420 in number, but 30,884 people are still displaced, mainly residents of Fukushima Prefecture, where the effects of the nuclear power plant accident are still being felt.

Reconstruction projects such as rebuilding transportation networks and relocating homes to higher ground have nonetheless made headway since 2011, only to run up against a larger-than-expected population decline.

Population decline is worst in the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, as well as the areas affected by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster. The number of residents in the 42 municipalities that cover these areas has fallen by about 140,000 in the 10 years since 2010, according to the national census. The population was about 2.57 million in 2010, the year before the earthquake.

According to the census, the population declined by 8.9% in Iwate Prefecture, 1.9% in Miyagi Prefecture and 9.6% in Fukushima Prefecture over the decade, faster in each case than the national rate of 1.4%.

The population of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where 3,970 people died or went missing, has declined by 20,675.

While various efforts are being made in the less populated coastal areas of the three disaster-stricken prefectures to encourage people to settle there or return to their homes, younger people especially have tended to move to cities.

Although Sendai gained 50,718 residents and the neighboring city of Natori 5,584, the surrounding areas lost a significant part of their population.