One year on after the March 11 disastrous quake and tsunami, Japan is pressing ahead with reconstruction efforts, but still faces enormous challenges in overcoming country’s worst disaster since World War II.
Japan paused for a minute’s silence on Sunday at 2:46 pm, the time the 9.0-magnitude mega earthquake struck off the coast of Honshu Island, unleashing a deadly tsunami that killed almost 16,000 and left more than 3,000 missing. The world watched with admiration at the Japanese people’s discipline and resilience in coping with the aftermath.
Twelve-meter-tall anti-tsunami seawalls were futile in stopping the massive wave that caused most of the damage and casualties. The cost of the calamity amounts tens of billions of US dollars.
The disaster damaged some 190,000 buildings and created an estimated 24-25 million tonnes of debris.
The Japanese economy looks set to return to pre-disaster levels in the coming months with the help of about $230 billion in rebuilding funds agreed in a rare show of cooperation between the government and the opposition, Reuters says.
"In recent history, Japan seized rapid economic expansion from the ashes and desolation of World War II, and we built the most energy-efficient economy in the world in the aftermath of the oil shock," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in an article published in the Washington Post.
“Our goal is not simply to reconstruct the Japan that existed before March 11, 2011, but to build a new Japan,” he underlined. Noda praised “remarkable” progress made over the past 12 months and expressed hope that the period of difficulties will mark the start of Japan’s “fully-fledged revitalization.”
In his article, the prime minister vowed that under the concept of “open reconstruction,” the worst-hit areas will stimulate new domestic and overseas investment, create jobs, drive the restoration of existing industries and enhance innovation. Such plans imply spending fantastic amounts of money.
Total clean-up of the radioactive zone around the earthquake- and tsunami-affected Fukushima nuclear power plant will cost up to half a trillion dollars and many years of hard work, Arnold Gundersen, energy adviser at Fairwinds Associates, told RT.
“The entire north of Japan has a public health hazard,” claims Gundersen, who has found traces of radioactive waste in Tokyo, some 250 kilometers from Fukushima.
Moreover, with about 325,000 people remaining homeless, many question whether Japan’s leadership will be able to bring about full-scale recovery. The country is seeing its sixth prime minister in five years. The previous leader Naoto Kan resigned with an extremely low approval rating in August, due to his efforts in dealing with the disaster.
While much of the debris has been gathered into massive piles, very little rebuilding has begun so far. Bureaucratic delays in coordination between the central government, prefectural authorities and local officials are believed to be one of the factors that are slowing rebuilding efforts.
"Differences of opinion between central and local governments and even among the populations affected" have contributed to delays, Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japan Red Cross Society, said earlier this week, the Associated Press reports. "They couldn't reach any consensus. They still keep fighting with each other, looking for the best solution."