” The central government has made a large number of people who voluntarily fled the Fukushima area after the 2011 nuclear disaster disappear by cutting them from official lists of evacuees.
Critics are now condemning the move, which went into effect last April, saying it prevents government officials from fully grasping the picture of all who remain displaced to evaluate their future needs.
“Accurate data on Fukushima evacuees is essential in gaining a better understanding of their current circumstances and crafting measures to address their problems,” said Shun Harada, a sociology researcher at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, who contributes as an editor for an information publication for evacuees living in Saitama Prefecture.
“When only smaller than the real numbers are made available, difficulties facing evacuees could be underestimated and could result in terminating support programs for them,” he complained.
As of July, 89,751 evacuees were living across Japan after fleeing from the nuclear disaster, down by 29,412 from the March tally.
In April, the central government opted to cut “voluntary” evacuees who fled their homes due to fears of radiation despite being from outside the evacuation zone.
It came after the official program to provide free housing to the voluntary evacuees was stopped at the end of March, which was designed to facilitate a prompt return to their hometowns in Fukushima Prefecture. People from the evacuation zone are still eligible to the free housing program.
The central government’s Reconstruction Agency, set up to oversee rebuilding efforts in Japan’s northeastern region after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, releases the number of evacuees each month, based on figures compiled by local authorities.
The 29,412 drop in the number of official evacuees between March and July includes 15,709 in Fukushima Prefecture, 6,873 in Miyagi Prefecture, 2,798 in Iwate Prefecture, 780 in Tokyo, 772 in Kanagawa Prefecture and 577 in Saitama Prefecture.
Before the change in housing policy, agency statistics showed a monthly decrease in evacuee numbers of between 3,000 and 4,000 in the several months leading up to the end of March.
But the drop in numbers increased dramatically to 9,493 between March and April and 12,412 between April and May.
Kanagawa and Saitama prefectural officials say voluntary evacuees were responsible for most of the declines in their jurisdictions.
A large number of them are believed to be living in the same housing as before but are now paying their own rent.
A 43-year-old woman who has been evacuating in Saitama Prefecture since fleeing from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, with three other family members said she is angered by the central government’s treatment.
“We cannot return to Fukushima Prefecture due to fears of the effects of radiation,” she said. “I feel like I have been abandoned by the state by being denied evacuee status.”
An official with the Tokyo-based Japan Civil Network for Disaster Relief in East Japan, a private entity that functions as a liaison unit for a nationwide network of groups supporting victims of the disaster six years ago stressed the need for local authorities to have an accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding evacuees.
“Of the evacuees, the elderly and single-parent households tend to be left in isolation and many of them are likely to become qualified to receive public assistance in the near future,” the official said. “Local officials need to know they are evacuees (from Fukushima).”
The official added that it will become difficult for support groups to extend their help if voluntary evacuees are taken out of the official tally.
But the Reconstruction Agency said it will not reconsider the definition of evacuees. ”
by Shigeo Hirai, The Asahi Shimbun