Japan tsunami: More aid needed to rebuild city, says official

The road to Ishinomaki's coast, more than an hour's drive from its city, remains lined with gravestones and piles of debris.

It is a bumpy ride - concrete has been slapped unevenly on the road to mend potholes from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Few people appear out and about on the streets except for workers toiling on construction sites. The total price tag for Ishinomaki's reconstruction is 868 billion yen (S$11.2 billion).

While the eyes of the world have been on the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima and the unfolding consequences, lesser-known areas such as Ishinomaki have attracted little attention outside Japan. There are some who would say the area has not been given enough attention within the country either.

City hall director Masatoshi Hoshi said the city has received only about 15 per cent of the amount that Japan's central government promised to Ishinomaki. "The scale of the disaster damage was so huge. What we need is money and manpower, and not enough has been given to us," he said.

In its annual budget released in January, Japan's Ministry of Finance set aside 4.4 trillion yen to accelerate reconstruction works after the disaster. The central government had earlier estimated that damage to roads, ports and buildings would cost Japan 16.9 trillion yen.

Mr Hoshi also highlighted the need to tackle less tangible areas, such as mental health care and emerging problems such as obesity.

City hall statistics show that the population has shrunk from 162,822 a month before the disaster to 150,671 in May this year. An estimated 3,500 people died or went missing with the crashing waves that hit Ishinomaki.

Prior to 2011, young people searching for better opportunities had been moving out of Ishinomaki. Local officials now fear the city's wrecked economy will only encourage that trend. But it is not all doom and gloom.

"The clean-up of debris is going fast and on schedule. We will be finished by next March," said Mr Hoshi, adding that the rebuilding of ports, integral to the city's core fishing trade, is likely to be completed next August.

At the seaside village of Maeami-hama, fisherman Eietsu Suzuki, 54, could not wait for the official plans to materialise. Waves sweep close to the cabins on the beach where he and some of the village's 67 inhabitants live. A temporary housing complex 400m from the sea was too far away, said Mr Suzuki, who lost his house, a boat and fishing gear in the disaster.

After the tsunami, the fishermen pooled their resources and raised 59 million yen to buy a larger boat that they now use every morning. The group sells the day's catch to a nearby port. "We have to help one another as a community. I'm not sure what the official plans for the village are, and help may take a while to reach us," said Mr Suzuki.

"Most of us fishermen still live near the sea where we work. Fishing makes me happy and it's what I have been doing since I was young." !-- Start For Web Only -->

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