Reconstruction of Lives and Communities

In the restoration and reconstruction policy, the top priority should be placed on the life reconstruction of the disaster-affected people, and, in the case of a large-scale disaster, public aid is crucial for the rebuilding of lives and reconstruction of communities.

Unless the victims in deep sorrow and great anxiety for the future have hope, the courage and energy to live, no restoration or reconstruction can be achieved. It is necessary to provide people with low-rent public housing and to accommodate them with a low-interest loan. The quickest way to support the people is public aid, meaning individual compensation.

Public compensation for individuals, needless to say, does not mean to compensate for all the lost assets but to support the victims to gain a foothold for the reconstruction of housing and shops to rehabilitate their lives.

Public Deed

The governments say that public aid cannot be approvable because it would help private and personal asset be formed. Support for hundreds of thousands of victims, however, is not a matter of private or personal, but it is a public deed. The government has established a framework for the injection of public funding of 70 trillion yen into banks to aid them to settle nonperforming debts, justifying it by saying that a bank consists of many people and there also are a number of depositors. If this is the case, the situation should be the same for the victims of the great earthquake. Further more, the damage they incurred was wrought by a natural disaster which was not their fault, while the loss banks suffered was caused by their own failure in the pursuit for private benefit.

Cash Benefit or Benefit in Kind

The public aid can be either in the form of cash benefit or benefit in kind. It should be decided according to the purpose. The governments, immediately after the earthquake, however, only opted for benefit in kind based on the Disaster Relief Act. Though the act approves the cash benefit, too, the central and municipal governments did not agree with the cash benefit.

The basics of the relief and restoration measures should be to research and grasp what the victims are in need of. The central and municipal governments, however, have not sufficiently come to understand the actual damage situation even by now. It was of course much harder to conduct such research in the confusion right after the earthquake. Also the needs of the survivors vary. So it is the cash benefit that best responds to the demands of the victims. The biggest reason for the delay in the reconstruction of the livelihood of people was that the cash benefit measures, which were implemented in the United States and Taiwan, were not employed.

Uses Limited or Unlimited?

As the demand of the people for the public assistance got stronger, the government was obliged to provide some support to individuals such as subsidy for interest or rent. This was actually the cash benefit for individuals, but with a limited purpose. Though if it had been without limiting the purpose of usage, the beneficiary could use the cash to, for instance, reduce the principal of the loan, it was not set up that way. The governments seemed to take such a strong stand against public compensation for individuals.

There was also another progression. Though the cash benefit was consistently rejected, the Life Rebuilding Assistant Act for the Affected People was established, thanks to the campaign in the earthquake-hit areas and movement requesting the legislation of support for victims' life-rebuilding. The act made the cash benefit possible in the case of a devastating disaster in the future. It was not retroactive but its supplementary resolution approved the assistance at the same degree for the case of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, with the Reconstruction Fund as a financial resource.

It was an achievement that the cash benefit was legally approved. There were, however, some problems. The first was that the disbursement was too late. It should have been given immediately after the earthquake if it was for life reconstruction. Next, the target group for the assistance was strictly limited and the cash benefit as a right was not recognized. Also, the amount was small and given in installments. There laid an aim to keep the public aid for individuals as a minimum social security system without approving such aid given equally to victims.

Guarantee for Life and Property

The Japanese government has an obligation to protect people's lives and properties from natural disasters, crimes and invasions. It is one of the important tasks of the central and municipal governments to manage the disaster risk and maintain safety. To have their lives and properties protected is one of the purposes of people paying taxes. Therefore, it is quite reasonable for people to be provided with funding to establish their foothold for their life reconstruction when they encounter a severe disaster for which they are not responsible.

Assertion of their right for wholesome and cultured living guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution, etc. is not the selfishness of the victims. It is an issue of compensation against unpredictable disasters and is a national task.

(KIKUMOTO Yoshiharu)