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Roadblocks Along the Road to Recovery in Japan

Christopher Hawthorne reports from Japan on the many obstacles preventing areas destroyed by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami from proceeding with rebuilding, as the recovery effort stalls in the cleanup stage.
March 9, 2012, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Although northeastern Japan has made enormous strides in removing the astonishing amount of debris caused by last year's disaster, Hawthorne outlines the leadership and political roadblocks that have prevented communities from starting in earnest on substantial construction efforts, as some of the largest questions regarding rebuilding go unanswered.

According to Hawthorne, "Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his approval rating in danger of sinking below 30%, has faced wide criticism for failing to articulate a broad vision for rebuilding. The national Reconstruction Agency wasn't officially launched until February, 11 months after the disaster...The most intractable issue is whether the hardest hit fishing villages, already losing population before the disaster, should be rebuilt as they were or consolidated." Larger socio-economic fault lines have also been exposed by the earthquake, and these issues must be discussed as they are likely to guide rebuilding plans.

The lack of progress on rebuilding is not for lack of trying by the country's architects and planners who have worked diligently with local communities to develop plans for reconstruction.

While a larger vision for recovery goes unarticulated, local communities have also struggled to develop consensus on how to rebuild their towns. "Sharp disagreement" amongst local residents and politicians "over reconstruction goals has repeated itself in the smaller towns along the Oshika Peninsula," according to Hawthorne. And "the lack of consensus on basic issues calls into question precisely how" $3.75 billion in rebuilding grants recently approved by the central government will be spent.

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Published on Thursday, March 8, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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