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Difficult to secure enough personnel in disaster-hit areas

Editorial: Personnel shortages a challenge to local gov'ts in disaster-hit areas

March 8, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)

Japanese version



Officials of local governments across the country who have been dispatched to regions hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami are playing a key role in supporting affected local bodies' disaster recovery efforts. So far, over 90,000 prefectural and municipal government officials have been dispatched to disaster-hit areas, and currently some 2,200 are engaged in various such projects, according to the national government.

Since there is expected to be demand for numerous human resources in disaster areas over the next several years, the national government and local bodies across the country need to do their utmost to secure the necessary personnel. As preparations for future disasters, local governments should build multi-layered cooperative relations between themselves.

In the March 2011 disasters, municipal governments' functions mainly in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures were paralyzed after their offices were hit by tsunami. More than one-third of some 300 officials currently with the Otsuchi Municipal Government in Iwate Prefecture are those loaned by other local governments.

Many local bodies in affected regions need personnel who can handle massive amounts of clerical work associated with the relocation of neighborhoods to higher ground to avoid future tsunami, among other projects. Apart from officials dispatched from prefectural governments, those from municipal governments who are more familiar with administrative work linked directly to local communities played a key role in supporting such work. The March 2011 disasters reminded national and local governments as well as the general public of the importance of cooperation between local bodies.

However, it is becoming difficult to secure enough personnel to dispatch to disaster-hit areas as nearly five years passed since the earthquake and tsunami. The demand for personnel will peak over the next several years in disaster areas where infrastructure reconstruction work is under way. Nevertheless, local governments outside disaster areas face increasing difficulties dispatching sufficient workers to disaster areas because local bodies have downsized their organizations and for other reasons.

In fiscal 2015, local governments in disaster-ravaged areas asked their counterparts outside the affected regions via the national government to dispatch about 1,400 officials. However, outside local bodies were able to dispatch only about 1,200 workers. Local governments in affected areas have asked for the dispatch of some 1,550 officials to help with disaster recovery work in fiscal 2016.

The central government has asked the National Governors' Association and the Japan Association of City Mayors for cooperation. However, there are no prospects that local bodies can dispatch a sufficient number of workers to disaster areas.

If it is difficult to secure enough employees, more retirees who have expertise should be employed on fixed-term contracts and dispatched to disaster-hit regions. Shortening the term of dispatch of local government officials may need to be considered although many local bodies in disaster-ravaged regions ask that officials be dispatched for one year.

It is also important to put experiences that local government officials had during their dispatch to disaster areas to good use. Officials who have experience of working in disaster areas should be registered in a system like a human resource bank and lessons learned from work in disaster areas should be shared between local government officials in preparation for responses to future disasters.

There are examples of ordinance-designated cities and other major cities supporting affected local bodies' disaster recovery efforts as partners. The Nagoya Municipal Government has extended intensive assistance to the Rikuzentakata Municipal Government, such as the dispatch of nearly 200 officials to the disaster-hit city in Iwate Prefecture. The two cities have also deepened their relations through exchanges of children.

According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, the number of local governments that have signed agreements with their counterparts in other prefectures on mutual assistance in case of serious disasters has increased since the March 2011 disasters. Currently, 1,240 local bodies have such agreements, accounting for about 70 percent of municipalities across the nation. Local governments should try to expand such cooperative relations in preparation for mutual assistance in case of a massive natural disaster.



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