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Japan 5 years after the tsunami

Tokyo – Five years ago, to be exact March 11, 2011, was the day not only Japanese people will remember but the world as well as they witnessed the devastation created by the impact of the intensity 7, the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, the ensuing tsunami and nuclear disaster.

But what was so amazing was the government’s swift and careful support following the disaster.

Shinya Fujita, counselor for press and international affairs of the Reconstruction Agency during a briefing with visiting ASEAN journalists that right after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japanese government promptly formulated budgets, modified laws and orders and established a new organization within the Cabinet.

Caption: Photo shows Michihiro Kono, president of Yagisawa Shoten Co., as he walks by a hill where his company’s employees ran up to a shrine for safety when the 2011 tsunami hit Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP PHOTO)

Caption: Photo shows Michihiro Kono, president of Yagisawa Shoten Co., as he walks by a hill where his company’s employees ran up to a shrine for safety when the 2011 tsunami hit Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP PHOTO)

On that fateful day, the Emergency Disaster Response Headquarters was established. In May to November, the government allocated supplementary budgets for reconstruction were funded one after another for a total of $150 billion.

In March 2012, The Reconstruction Agency was established within the Cabinet to centrally administer reconstruction activities. This agency, manned by 600 people, has a life of no more than 10 years or until March 2021.

In its short lifespan of 10 years, The Reconstruction Agency is a very powerful agency. Headed by no less than Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, the agency is ranked higher than other ministries and agencies. The Minister for Reconstruction is authorized to request related ministries and agencies to provide necessary documents and explanation as well as to make recommendations as necessary.

The agency has headquarters in Tokyo with bureaus in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures (Tohoku region), which were heavily damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.

To ensure there is a continued reconstruction of the affected areas, the Japanese government had set aside approximately $250 billion for the first five years. The period 2011-2015 was designated as Intensive Reconstruction Period. Another $65 billion have been allocated for 2016-2020. Guidelines for the massive reconstruction were also issued.

Despite being a rich country, donations from the international communities also poured in to Japan. For that the Japanese government has been very grateful.

Fujita explained that most of the donations were course through the Red Cross or are directly distributed to the beneficiaries, prefectures and cities.

Now, the affected areas are going back to normal. More residents are coming back, people are moving about and tourists are flowing in. Businesses are flourishing and some are even performing better than what they used to be before the earthquake.

“Today we would like to show you that we have achieved a lot,” said Fujita, who was then assigned in Berlin when the disaster struck his homeland.

As of November 2015 data, there were less than 60,000 evacuees left out of the 470,000 during its peak. The agency continues to provide physical and mental health care and community development to the remaining evacuees. Public housing for disaster-affected areas is 95 percent complete

Industrial production indices have recovered more or less to the level of pre-earthquake. At least 74 percent of farmlands have been recovered and 85 percent of seafood processing facilities have reopened.

The number of foreigners staying overnights is back to 65 percent of pre-earthquake level.

Restoration of public infrastructure is almost complete. At least 90 percent of school and medical facilities have been recovered. At least 14,000 public housing for the disaster-affected areas have been completed.

Housing projects for 37 municipalities out of 55 are scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2015. The remaining 18 municipalities are scheduled to have completed housing projects by around FY2018.