Unprecedented Public Aid for Demolition

The Great Hanshin Earthquake demolished not only buildings for residential and commercial uses but also all kinds of urban facilities such as railways, stations, telegraph poles, etc. The debris blocked traffic and disturbed activities of rescue, restoration and reconstruction. It was recognized as an urgent issue to smoothly dispose of the great amount of debris and waste and an unprecedented measure was taken to publicly subsidize the demolition of collapsed housing.

Usually, the demolition of private housing should be left to the responsibility of the owner's and the municipality is supposed to handle the debris after demolition. The national government is to aid the municipality with half of the disposal cost.

This time, however, the heads of Hyogo prefecture and related municipalities requested the national government to subsidize the demolition of damaged buildings, fearing that the disposal of collapsed buildings would not proceed smoothly. As a result, taking into consideration that the Hanshin and Kobe areas serve as a hub of transportation and the paralysis of the urban function in this area would have a negative impact on the national society and economy, an agreement was rapidly reached among the government offices. Thus, a special measure was taken to lessen the individual victim's burden.

It was decided on January 28th that municipalities planning to demolish and dispose collapsed private houses, condominiums, and office buildings of small and medium enterprises, would receive national aid for half of the cost. The Self-Defense Force was also requested to cooperate with the municipalities in handling the debris. The actual procedure started the following day. The number of collapsed housing and buildings demolished and disposed by the end of March, 1996, reached 59,000 in Kobe city and 105,000 in Hyogo prefecture, which was almost equal to the number of totally collapsed or burnt houses.

Severely Limited Operation Period

The measure was reasonable from the point of view that victims did not have to be burdened with the cost of demolition. However it also facilitated the scrapping of more housing than was necessary. Since the period during which people could receive the aid was limited to one year, people were driven to rush into demolition fearing they may miss the aid if they were too late. In other words, a lot of repairable housing, was scrapped due to the rush to receive aid.

Neglected Importance of Temporary Repairs

The Disaster Relief Act says that temporary repairs can be made as one of the rescue measures. In the event of the great earthquake, however, the number of temporary repairs remained at 577 in Kobe. The aid for temporary repairs was limited to 295,000 yen per case and there were too many restrictions like the one that a bath was not allowed to be repaired utilizing the aid. And also the information about the aid was not widely spread. If the temporary repairs assistance had been operated in an extended way, like the demolition aid was, more buildings would have been repaired to a livable condition, the necessary number of temporary housing and post-disaster public housing would have been reduced, and people would have been able to remain in the area they had originally lived.


(SHIOZAKI Yoshimitsu)