Tens of thousands of evacuees from the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011 are still living in temporary shelters designed to last only two years.
Most of the 68,000 evacuees are from the hardest-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.
Temporary prefabricated housing was erected hastily because so many people lost their homes and livelihoods in the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing towering tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.
Under the central government’s system to help victims of natural disasters, such prefabricated homes are to be used, in principle, for just two years.
The scale of the disaster led to delays in constructing more permanent public housing for those made homeless.
Many of the communities devastated by the tsunami in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures are trying to build new public housing units for disaster victims on higher ground, but that is proving difficult because the coastal areas are so flat.
In the case of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, all evacuees had left temporary housing and were relocated in 25,000 public housing units just five years after the disaster.
It has been estimated that 29,501 public housing units need to be built for the victims of the 2011 disaster. But as of July, only 11,000 units had been completed.
Officials say construction of all the needed public housing will likely not be completed until fiscal 2018.
Many of those still living in the temporary housing units are senior citizens or those on low incomes who face difficulties in finding other housing on their own.
That is one reason there has only been a 40 percent decrease in the number of evacuees from the peak figure in March 2012. About 199,000 people are still living as evacuees.
About 10 percent of those in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures living in temporary housing either said they were unsure where they would go after leaving those units or local government officials could not confirm the intentions of the evacuees.
In Fukushima Prefecture, about 20,000 evacuees live in temporary housing units. Because nine local communities are still covered by evacuation orders due to the Fukushima nuclear accident that was triggered by the earthquake and tsunami disaster, about 70,000 residents are unable to return to their homes.
In a related development, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency updated its figures on the number of dead and missing from the 2011 disasters to 21,955 as of Sept. 1 against 18,554 on Sept 12, 2012. It said the number of fatalities includes those who died while living as evacuees.
Source: Asahi Shimbun