On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Japan, hit the northeastern part of the country, with its epicenter in the Pacific Ocean off the Sanriku coast. The earthquake triggered huge tsunami waves measuring 8-9 meters in height; in places the tsunami rose to 40 meters.
The immense damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami disaster, later officially called the Great East Japan Earthquake, resulted in 15,854 persons dead, 3,155 missing, and 26,992 injured. Attesting to the enormous scale of the tsunami damage, more than 90% of the deaths were caused by drowning.
The disaster also caused massive damage to buildings: 129,107 homes and other structures were completely destroyed, 254,139 were partially destroyed, 281 were completely or partially burned down, and 20,427 were inundated with water above floor level. Furthermore, infrastructure suffered heavy damage as well, including many destroyed roads, bridges, and levees. At the time of the disaster, the number of evacuees was around 470,000 persons. Today, 15 months later, there are still more than 340,000 people living in temporary housing or otherwise displaced.
Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi Prefectures, the three regions that suffered most in the disaster, have formulated reconstruction plans and are making specific efforts toward recovery. Because of the massive scale of the damage, reconstruction is scheduled to take 10 years in Miyagi Prefecture and 8 years in Iwate Prefecture. In Fukushima Prefecture, the disaster involved not only the earthquake and tsunami but also a nuclear power plant crisis, so the prefecture has compiled a first reconstruction plan covering projects over the next decade.
In response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) set up the RENGO Disaster Relief Task Force on March 14, 2011, and for the following six months engaged in various support activities. These included the internal and on-the-street collection of disaster relief donations and calls within the RENGO organization for the supply of relief materials to the disaster area. RENGO-affiliated industrial labour federations also delivered relief materials reflecting the characteristics of their industries to the disaster area.
The relief donations collected by RENGO, which amounted to more than 800 million yen, were distributed to Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaragi, and Chiba Prefectures.
In addition, from the end of March 2011 RENGO dispatched relief volunteers to Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi Prefectures. Over six months a total of around 35,000 people participated in this volunteer program.
More than one year after disaster, recovery and reconstruction activities are continuing. The three prefectures are just beginning to slowly advance along the long road to reconstruction, and employment conditions are showing signs of improvement, although the disaster area still faces many problems.
The following is an introduction to the reconstruction assistance activities of three RENGO-affiliated industrial federations: UI Zensen (Japanese Federation of Textile, Chemical, Food, Commercial, Service and General Workers' Unions), Jidosha Soren (Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers' Unions), and Joho Roren (Japan Federation of Telecommunications, Electronic Information and Allied Workers).
Efforts of UI Zensen
UI Zensen, which is the largest private-sector industrial federation in Japan representing 1.1 million union members in the textile, chemical, distribution, food, and other industries, is dispatching volunteers to the Tohoku Cotton Project, which provides assistance for the restoration and recovery of agricultural land in the eastern part of Sendai that became uncultivable due to salt damage caused by the tsunami.
In some agricultural land flooded by the tsunami, desalination using water became impossible because drainage facilities were also destroyed in the disaster. The aim of the cotton project is to restore this land by shifting to the cultivation of salt-tolerant cotton. The harvested raw cotton will be purchased completely by companies for spinning, commercialization, and sale.
This project, which seeks to reconstruct agriculture in the disaster area, was launched in July 2011 by a wide range of supporting companies, unions, and others. It is hoped that the project will contribute to employment stability by restoring agricultural land through contributions from these companies and organizations.
Efforts of Jidosha Soren
As part of the labour movement's support for social progress, Jidosha Soren, which represents about 770,000 union members in the automobile industry, has been implementing the donation of goods and vehicles through welfare campaigns for a long time now. This time, in view of the fact that many vehicles were washed away by the tsunami, Jidosha Soren, in coordination with local relief headquarters, contributed 34 vehicles and 8 generators, mainly to social welfare councils in the disaster area.
In addition, in consideration of the recovery of the Japanese economy and auto industry, Jidosha Soren actively urged government ministries and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, among other things, to extend the inspection period for disaster-area vehicles and cut taxation for the replacement purchase of vehicles in the disaster area. As a result, the inspection period was extended by three months, and taxation related to automobile purchase by people in the disaster area was significantly reduced.
Efforts of Joho Roren
Joho Roren, which represents 220,000 union members in the information and communications industry, is assisting the recovery and reconstruction of the disaster area by, among other activities, (1) holding a reconstruction support fiesta; (2) conducting a cleanup operation in the vicinity of the Tsukijima shore in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture; (3) conducting a cleanup operation in the city of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture; and (4) assisting the regeneration of the fishery cooperative in the town of Yamada-cho, Iwate Prefecture, through the "reconstruction oyster owner scheme."
In the "reconstruction oyster owner scheme," which aims to support the reconstruction and regeneration of oyster farming by the fishery cooperative in Yamada-cho and ensure employment, individuals make advance purchases of oysters. One application costs 5,000 yen, and individuals can submit as many applications as they want. Joho Roren believes such assistance will lead to a resumption of the production of a local specialty, vitalize the regional economy, protect the jobs and livelihoods of fishery cooperative members and others involved in the marine product industry, and become a significant driving force toward regeneration of the oyster farming industry.
Besides these activities, many other industrial labour federations are also engaged in efforts toward the disaster area's recovery and reconstruction. Long-sustained efforts are required. From now on also, RENGO, industrial federations, and company-based unions will make their utmost efforts to achieve recovery and reconstruction in accordance with the needs of the disaster area.