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Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Streamline relief operations
As more than 10 days have passed since the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, the government should quickly review its setup so that it can carry out its relief operations as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The extent of the damage wrought by the March 11 quake dwarfs that of Japan's last big disaster — the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake — and Prime Minister Naoto Kan must act accordingly. The government must also work to ensure that the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is overcome as quickly as possible.
To alleviate the burden on Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who has been busy announcing the measures that are being taken to cope with the nuclear crisis, Mr. Kan appointed former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku to serve as deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
The Kan administration and the Democratic Party of Japan have also proposed to the opposition camp that the number of Cabinet members be increased by three to better manage the post-disaster relief and recovery effort.
Mr. Kan must make sure that the addition of three more Cabinet members does not complicate the execution of the government's relief operations. All necessary information related to measures to help the areas and people affected by the disaster and measures to deal with the nuclear crisis should be centralized and assessed by the Cabinet.
Efficient channels of communication should be established between the Cabinet and the nation's bureaucracy. A clear chain of command must also be set up.
Two channels of communication need to be established: one for measures to help the areas and people hit by the disaster and the other for measures to manage the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. The person responsible for measures for the relief operations and the person responsible for combating the nuclear crisis should be appointed separately.
Mr. Kan should exercise overall control over the two channels of communication and the two chains of command, and decide which problems should be given priority. He should create an environment in which ministry bureaucrats, Self-Defense Forces members, police officers, firefighters, public-health workers, local government workers and others can give full play to their abilities.
The prime minister should also refrain unnecessarily interfering with crisis-management efforts. For example, the March 12 visit that Mr. Kan made to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant interrupted efforts to manage the crisis. He should avoid making visits that would serve only to increase the burden on those working at evacuation shelters or assisting evacuees in other ways. Instead, he should work to establish channels of communication to ensure that accurate information from the devastated regions can quickly reach relevant government ministries and the Cabinet.
People who were rendered homeless by the disaster are being housed in some 2,100 temporary shelters and are desperately in need of aid. Medical professionals and necessities such as food, water, medicine, clothes, blankets, temporary toilets must be sent to these shelters as quickly as possible. To this end, the government should fully utilize the SDF for transport missions, and use SDF bases as collection centers for aid to be sent to evacuation shelters. Accurate information on needs will also be indispensable.
On March 19, Mr. Kan asked Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki to join his Cabinet and serve as deputy prime minister and minister in charge of post-disaster reconstruction. Mr. Tanigaki turned down his request, saying that the request was too sudden. Mr. Tanigaki's response is understandable because Mr. Kan has not made any efforts to coordinate important policies between the DPJ and the LDP.
Mr. Tanigaki did say that his party would cooperate with the Kan administration on reconstruction efforts from outside the Cabinet. Therefore, Mr. Kan should establish a system that will allow members of both the ruling and opposition camps to cooperate in an effective manner to ensure that relief operations go as smoothly as possible. He should consider asking opposition party lawmakers — especially LDP lawmakers who have experience of serving as Cabinet ministers or are well-versed in administrative matters — for assistance.
Finally, Mr. Kan should strive to utilize DPJ lawmakers to the fullest extent possible. He waited eight days after the earthquake to meet with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa and former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and seek their cooperation in government relief operations. Mr. Ozawa, who is from Iwate Prefecture — which suffered severe damage in the March 11 disaster — in particular would likely have well-established channels of communication in the region.