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Friday, April 1, 2011
Mayors confer on lessons learned from twin disaster, way forward
The past three weeks have proved the necessity of better information-sharing and coordination among the central government and municipalities to provide aid more effectively to disaster victims, mayors from 14 cities and towns agreed at a symposium in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Predicting that the reconstruction of the damaged regions may take years, they also urged the central government to draw up a plan soon as an example to local governments to prepare needed support.
Local governments have sent emergency supplies and are continuing to dispatch fire crews and medical professionals to the quake- and tsunami-hit regions. Some are also providing shelter to the thousands of displaced families. However, local governments' initial actions varied depending on their preparedness for disaster relief, and the mayors acknowledged their lack of coordination.
Since the earthquake, the National Governors' Association has taken charge, dividing the prefectures into groups and directing them to focus on sending their supplies to specific prefectures. While mayors from Nagano and Kanagawa prefectures were told they were supposed to send supplies to Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, respectively, mayors from Tsurugashima and Wako in Saitama Prefecture said they weren't informed where to send assistance.
"I believe the initial response to our relief efforts differed greatly depending on the prefecture," Wako Mayor Takehiro Matsumoto told the symposium, organized by the Japan Initiative private think tank.
Shizuoka, which is regarded as one of the prefectures best prepared for disasters thanks to its perennial alertness to possible earthquakes in the region, acted swiftly.
The mayors from Fujinomiya and Izu said the Shizuoka Prefectural Government has been in full command, asking the cities right away to gather supplies for pickup by the prefecture.
Some mayors of towns with sister cities in the quake-hit areas said it was immediately clear who they could help.
"We didn't wait for the prefectural or central government's request because I knew nothing would move forward," said Nara Mayor Gen Nakagawa, who sent a 4-ton truck full of supplies the day after the quake to Tagajo, a sister city in Miyagi Prefecture.
Mayor Yoshimasa Kishi of Minakami in Gunma Prefecture said his town is currently hosting around 580 evacuees from the city of Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture simply because it was the first to raise its hand when Minakami offered shelter to all those affected.
"It would actually help to have a specific partner in advance. It would also be obvious to our citizens why we are supporting them," he said.
To help rebuild cities, town and villages in the disaster-hit areas, local governments are currently preparing to send their own officials to help the relief and reconstruction efforts following a request from the central government.
But the mayors criticized the central government's request as lacking specifics, adding that either it or prefectures should decide how many officials are needed.
In the reconstruction process, the central and local governments should partner with volunteer groups, said Seiji Yanagida, mayor of Saku in Nagano Prefecture, which supports the city of Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture.
"The support from citizens will be increasingly important from here on out compared with the past three weeks as the victims start to reconstruct their communities," he said.