55% of donations not reaching victims in Japan

55% of donations not reaching victims in Japan

Posted on June 8, 2011
Filed Under relief & aid | Leave a Comment

I paid my taxes, tried to raise my kids right.. now in my time of need I wait and wait...

Less than half of the more than 80 billion yen in disaster-relief donations already sent to prefectures affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami has reached the hands of people waiting for urgently needed cash to rebuild their shattered lives, it has been learned.

Although a committee tasked with distributing cash donations to survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake has decided how to hand out the second batch of payments, only 45 percent of the money already sent to 15 affected prefectural governments has reached people's pockets. The slow progress in the distribution of donations is largely seen as due to the loss of family registries and residents' certificates in the tsunami, as well as a lack of staff in the affected areas.

Earthquake survivors are counting on these funds to buy the cars, refrigerators and other goods needed to put their lives back on track. They also need money to secure jobs and places to live.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry about 82.3 billion yen has been sent to 15 prefectural governments by the four organizations involved in the committee in charge of donation distribution. Only about 37 billion yen, or 45 percent, has reached the disaster survivors.

The donation panel comprises the Japan Red Cross Society, Central Community Chest of Japan, NHK and the NHK Public Welfare Organization, in addition to the 15 prefectures.

According to the Miyagi prefectural government, 33.1 billion yen in donations sent by the committee was disbursed to 34 city, town and village offices as of Monday. The municipalities, however, have paid out only about 9.3 billion yen, or 28 percent, as of Friday.

"We lost our car in the tsunami and we can't buy a new one to get on with our lives without money. I hope the donation money arrives as soon as possible," said a 64-year-old unemployed man who is living at a shelter in Higashi-Matsushima.

The prefecture's social welfare section said many municipalities lost their family and resident registries in the tsunami. Without these documents, it is difficult to decide who is entitled to a share of the donations. "The quake left us with a ton of clerical work, and we're short of staff who can handle making donation payments," one official said.

To be paid, a person needs a disaster victim certificate. To get a certificate, one must undergo an inspection. The problem is that there is not enough staff to handle the issuing of the certificates, which has severely slowed up distribution of the donation money.

The Tagajo city government said staff shortages mean it takes at least one week to issue a certificate. But even after a person gets a disaster victim certificate, the city said it takes even more time for them to get paid.

Tagajo resident Ayako Hirayama, 57, visited the city office Saturday to apply for a certificate. She lives in an apartment with her husband and her son's family because their house was flooded by the tsunami. They have no refrigerator, so they have to go shopping nearly every day. She said having a place to store food would be a big help, but a city official told her the donations would not be distributed for about a month.

"Without money I'm just wilting with worry. We're really having to tap our savings, so I'd like to get the donations as soon as possible," she said.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the distribution rate is 61 percent, much higher than Miyagi. The prefecture has received about 35 billion yen and quake-hit residents have been paid about 21.5 billion yen.

"We sent a staff member to each of three municipalities for a week in late April to make progress on handing out disaster donations," a prefectural official in charge said.

The distribution rate in Iwate Prefecture is about 47 percent. Out of about 10.2 billion yen, about 4.9 billion yen has made its way to disaster survivors. The prefecture said it has sent 44 officials, including workers from other prefectures, to five cities and towns that had especially serious damage in the tsunami to pave the way for smooth distribution of funds.

"Gradually, we've been able to create an environment where we can make payments easily," a prefectural official in charge said.

Meanwhile, some disaster victims have complained about a large gap in the first round of payments. People were eligible for 350,000 yen if their residence was totally destroyed by tsunami or fire, while only 180,000 yen was available for residences that were half destroyed or half-burnt.

Masakatsu Yamazaki, a 70-year-old fisherman from Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, said the distinction biased. "A lot of houses that were 'half-destroyed' can't be lived in. Treating totally destroyed houses and half-wrecked homes differently isn't fair," he said.

above reprinted from the June 8 Daily Yomuiri Japanese Newspaper

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