Housing vulnerabilities: one year after March 11 earthquake

It was my pleasure and honor to attend the 1st Housing Forum Europe and Central Asia at Budapest in April 2011 and make a presentation on “Housing finance beyond the crisis – a case study from Japan”.

On March 11, 2011, just 3 weeks before the Forum, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck Northeast of Japan (Tohoku region), which is the largest on record in Japanese history. The Great East Japan Earthquake was indeed an unprecedented national crisis; it was also a compound disaster of earthquakes, tsunami and a nuclear accident and had a broad impact all over the nation.

Damage after the massive earthquake in Tohoku region, Japan.

The number of deaths is 15,854, and the number of missing is 3,276 (as of March 1, 2012). There were massive destructions in public infrastructures, including electricity, gas and water supply. Immediately after the Earthquake, nearly a half million people were evacuated.

There were significant damages on housing stock as well. 129,198 units are identified to be totally destroyed and another 254,238 units be heavily damaged as of March 11, 2012.

The Government of Japan has been mobilizing all its efforts towards recovery from the Earthquake, then towards reconstruction with a future vision for the purpose of advancing social and economic restoration and rebuilding people’s lives in the disaster area as well as revitalizing vibrant Japan as a whole. 52,620 units of emergency shelters are completed as of March 19, 2012 and many evacuation centers are already closed.

Some of the damages on housing stock are covered by earthquake insurance. Huge amount of donation, both from domestic as well as international society, contributed to improve the livelihood of the victims. At JHF, we are providing special concessional mortgages for those who will purchase or construct a house with subsidies. We are extending borrower outreach program to modify outstanding mortgage terms as well.

There remain major challenges as well. Most of the houses totally destroyed were located along seaside. Many of those houses stood immediately after the earthquake, but wiped away by tsunami. Considering the recurrence of tsunami, it is recommended that houses should be reconstructed higher hillside rather than original seaside which may suffer another inundation. However, relocation of this scale is unprecedented and there are constraint regarding availability of housing site in these regions. Fishermen lived along seaside because of accessibility to ports.

Nonetheless, we have to overcome these challenges. I would appreciate if I could share our experience at the 2nd Housing Forum Europe and Central Asia in April 2013.

By Masahiro Kobayashi
Chief Economist, Global Markets, Japan Housing Finance Agency
Member of Advisory Board of Asia Pacific Union For Housing Finance(APUHF)

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