Sunday 10 March 2013

Update (2) Evacuees

For us here in Koriyama, in the middle of Fukushima prefecture, life is pretty much back to normal. But the accident casts a long shadow on many families. There are still 150,000 evacuees. Refugees might be a better word as two years on they're still in limbo. 

First there are the 'voluntary evacuees' (自主避難者 jishu hinansha). They're not from the excluded areas but chose to leave, mainly women and children. Their rent will be paid for one more year but they're not eligible for compensation and are struggling financially and mentally. There are 30,000 of them. That's a lot of people. Some are drifting back but none of the people I know are planning to come back just yet. 

Then there are the people in those awful, cramped, flimsy pre-fabs they call emergency housing. They're designed for two years use but this was extended last year and has just been extended again so people can stay in them for four years. NHK has just carried out a survey (small sample, only 750 people) which showed 63% with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As one man joked, he'd be better off in prison: at least he'd get three meals and some work to do!

There's a real sense of frustration. Residents in the areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi have been told they can't return for 5 years at least. But that's all. There had been talk of a 'Grand Design' a vision for the area 30 years hence, but instead of committing to it the government pushes forward plans for nine medium term storage facilities for radioactive waste which, necessary though they are, add to the anxiety people have about their future. Compensation for houses and the land they stand on has been promised (at the rateable value - not bad) and applications can start at the end of this month. But some say they wouldn't get enough to start afresh. Some are even saying they'd rather sell their properties but the government won't commit to nationalisation at this stage. The TV has been full of stories and interviews. Here are a few just to give you an idea.

First, a farmer living in emergency housing who just wants to farm. He wants to be given farmland somewhere else and get on with his life. But the guidelines for compensation for agricultural land haven't yet been drawn up so when is he going to get compensation? And how is he to afford machinery?

A couple in their 50s saved up the money they've been receiving in compensation and have just paid off the mortgage on the house they built 8 years ago. They say they're relieved to get it paid off. Now they'll wait for compensation for their old house and use that to buy a new property. He's set up in business in a small way. He says it seems like the government and Tepco are just waiting for people to give up and set up on their own.

Then the sad case of the man with a young family whose new house and big garden is just outside the 30 km zone. He has a hefty mortgage and two very small children. Not eligible for compensation he's in Tokyo with his family doing casual work and hoping to move back when radiation levels fall.  

There have long been complaints that the recovery is too slow but two years on things seem to be getting more complicated still. New houses will be built this year so hopefully many people will be able to move out of emergency housing, and compensation will be paid for houses and land in the exclusion zones so some people should be able to start afresh. There was a vision for the future in the first months after the accident but it seems to have got bogged down in a very complex and difficult reality. Perhaps it's early days yet. Again, the scale of this accident is mind boggling.

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