Scholarly article on topic 'The reconstruction of transportation and environmental infrastructure in rural areas'

The reconstruction of transportation and environmental infrastructure in rural areas Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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{Tsunami / Relocation / "Backcasting approach" / "Social network services" / Sustainability / Kesennuma}

Abstract of research paper on History and archaeology, author of scientific article — Tomohiro Ichinose

Abstract On March 11, 2011 a massive, magnitude 9.0 earthquake destroyed most of the rural areas along the Pacific Coast of eastern Japan, an area that had been facing issues of depopulation and aging even before the earthquake. In this paper I discuss reconstruction plans for depopulated rural areas from the perspectives of transportation infrastructure, residential areas, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, consensus building, and nature restoration. We must take a “backcasting” approach to sustainable development, one in which planning strategies lead to successful outcomes. An organizational and planning support platform is needed to build a consensus within an area.

Academic research paper on topic "The reconstruction of transportation and environmental infrastructure in rural areas"

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IATSS Research


The reconstruction of transportation and environmental infrastructure in rural areas

Tomohiro Ichinose *

Keio University Faculty of Environment and Information Sciences, Endo 5322, Fujisawa, Kanagawa 252-0882, Japan


On March 11, 2011 a massive, magnitude 9.0 earthquake destroyed most of the rural areas along the Pacific Coast of eastern Japan, an area that had been facing issues of depopulation and aging even before the earthquake. In this paper I discuss reconstruction plans for depopulated rural areas from the perspectives of transportation infrastructure, residential areas, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, consensus building, and nature restoration. We must take a "backcasting" approach to sustainable development, one in which planning strategies lead to successful outcomes. An organizational and planning support platform is needed to build a consensus within an area.

© 2012 International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 8 January 2012 Accepted 16 May 2012




Backcasting approach Social network services Sustainability Kesennuma

1. Introduction

A massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the northwest Pacific off northeastern Japan on March 11,2011, triggering tsunami damage in the coastal areas of the Tohoku and Kanto regions and severely damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Notably, many small settlements along the Sanriku Coast were totally destroyed by the tsunami. Most local governments in the Sanriku coastal area, ranging from the middle-east part of Miyagi Prefecture to the southeast part of Aomori Prefecture, were already suffering from depopulation and aging populations. Ishinomaki City is the biggest in the area, with approximately 150 thousand people. The second biggest city is Kesennuma, which had over 73 thousand people before the earthquake. Kesennuma City had merged with Karakuwa Town in 2006 and Motoyoshi Town in 2009, however, its population density was approximately 220 people per square kilometer. The population density of all other local governments in the area other than Ishinomaki City was fewer than 200 people per square kilometer.

Most areas in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures that were damaged by the tsunami also suffered from huge tsunamis in 1896 and 1933. Many people died from these disasters, but the population recovered with the rapid increase of the total population ofJapan. The population of Japan is said to have begun decreasing this decade. In 2010, a Long-term Perspective Committee, of which 1 am a member, was established under the National Land Council of Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). In late February 2011, the committee announced its midterm report on the outlook ofJapan for the year

* Tel.: +81 466 49 3636; fax: +81 466 49 3636. E-mail address:

2050. Based on last year's statistics, we estimate that if trends continue at their current pace about 20% of the currently inhabited land will lose all its population by 2050, and an additional 20% or so of Japan's land will have fewer than 10 residents per square kilometer. In other words, we project that about 40% of the currently inhabited areas will be virtually uninhabited by 2050. The Sanriku coastal area is no exception.

The population of the most damaged local governments decreased by 5% or more from 2005 to 2010, and the percentage of the population aged 65 and over was approximately 30% or more in 2010, according to the national censuses in 2005 and 2010. Comparing the population density per square kilometer in Kesennuma City for 2005 and that estimated for 2050 by the committee (Fig. 1), it is clear that the population of the city will decrease. The percentage of the elderly is not included in the figure but will exceed 50% in most areas. The recent earthquake is likely to accelerate the tendency toward depopulation and aging in the Sanriku coastal area.

Japan now faces a serious financial crisis. When a huge earthquake struck central Japan in 2004 the Japanese government responded by investing over 100 billion yen in Yamakoshi Village (population 2000), which subsequently merged into Nagaoka City. This was possible because the scope ofthe damaged area was limited. But can the government now support local governments affected by the recent earthquake in the same way? The affected areas span from the Kanto to the Tohoku region, with over 270 thousand buildings and houses destroyed. How can we reconstruct these rural areas?

In this paper, I review the damage situation in rural areas, especially along the Sanriku Coast. Then I discuss what we must do to reconstruct the rural areas given the issues of rapid depopulation and aging. Finally, I focus on consensus building and partnership in local reconstruction planning.

0386-1112/$ - see front matter © 2012 International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.iatssr.2012.05.002

Fig. 1. Population density in 2005 (and estimate for 2050) for central Kesennuma City. By Ohba, A. (Keio University) using data from MLIT.

2. Reconstruction of settlements in rural areas

Many people took refuge in schools, community centers, or other public facilities just after the earthquake. The local governments of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures had closed all such facilities by the end of December because most people had moved into temporary housing. The government has constructed 52,120 temporary houses (according to an MLIT announcement at the beginning of December 2011). 328,903 people had lost their homes and had moved to a temporary housing or other locations, such as apartments or relatives' homes (according to a government announcement on November 24, 2011). Many settlements were totally destroyed by the tsunami, while the earthquake caused land subsidence of as much as 0.7 m that makes it impossible to reconstruct houses and buildings in the same places. The government has suggested relocating such settlements to a higher ground. The third supplementary budget for this fiscal year passed the National Diet on November 21, 2011, and relocation to a higher ground will be totally supported by the government. Relocation plans are now being discussed at many settlements, especially in small fishing villages. If more than five households want to move together to a higher ground, the cost of constructing a residential site will be fully supported.

Relocation to a higher ground is not a new solution. Some relocations took place after the huge tsunamis in 1896 and 1933. Yamaguchi reports examples of relocation after the tsunami of 1933 [1]. Some settlements that relocated after these tsunamis were destroyed again, either because the height of the relocation was inadequate or because the settlement had sprawled into the lowland in subsequent decades. The damaged rural areas can be divided into four types (Table 1). The first is areas with little damage to the settlement due to an effective

Table 1

Four types of districts as damaged by the tsunami on March 11,2011, in relation to previous relocations after past tsunamis.

District City Damage by Old Damaged area

this tsunami relocation

Yoshihama Ofunato Slight Yes Agricultural land use

Ryori Ofunato Heavy Yes Sprawled area

Oya Kesennuma Heavy Yes Relocated area

Taro Miyako Heavy No Surrounded by breakwaters

previous relocation, such as the Yoshihama District of Ofunato City. The second is areas where relocated settlements had little damage, but sprawl areas were heavily destroyed, such as the Ryori District of Ofunato City. The third is areas damaged because their relocations were not high enough, such as the Oya District of Kesennuma City. The fourth is areas that were totally destroyed because they were not relocated after previous tsunamis, such as the Taro District of Miyako City. Taro was famous for having the highest breakwaters in Japan. In the 1933 tsunami, 911 people perished in Taro Village, which merged with Miyako City in 2005. Taro decided to construct ten-meter breakwaters around the central settlement to prepare for the next tsunami. There was a big tsunami in 1960 along the Sanriku Coast caused by a massive earthquake in Chile, but Taro was unscathed owing to its high breakwaters. The tsunami caused by the recent earthquake, however, destroyed the breakwaters and caused serious damage to the settlement.

1 researched relocation plans for some small settlements in Kesennuma City and found some problems. First, it is difficult to discuss plans with former residents because they now live apart in several temporary housing complexes or other places. Sometimes even community leaders have no information about who is where. In addition, there is no place to hold meetings. The larger temporary housing complexes have meeting houses, but only for the use of the new community living within the complex. Another problem is aging and depopulation, which were serious problems even before the earthquake. Since the earthquake, many young families have moved to larger cities like Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture. If a new relocation site is constructed, how many people will move back to live there? The government will support the cost of constructing such sites, but people are responsible for building their own houses. Construction will take years. New settlements could become ghost towns in a decade if young people do not come back or newly migrate. Constructing relocation sites requires a huge budget, so we need to consider plans for restoration ofsustainable communities.

3. Restoration of agriculture, forestry and fisheries

The government announced on June 24, 2011 that the amount of damage caused by the recent earthquake totaled 16.9 trillion yen, excluding the damage caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. The amount of damage in primary industries was

1.9 trillion yen, only 11% of the total damage. However, there are many small fishing ports along the Pacific Coast that were totally destroyed by the tsunami. There are a total of 253 ports in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures, with small fishing ports especially concentrated along the Sanriku Coast. The Sanriku Coast is famous as one of the best fisheries in the world, but has recently suffered from aging and a shortage of fishery resources. There are many types of fisheries, including pelagic fisheries using large fishing boats, coastal fisheries using small boats, fixed net fisheries, cultured fisheries, etc. Although many people in fishing villages have fishing rights, most work in the city and fish only several days a year. 2667 people worked primarily at the fishery in Kesennuma City in 2005, only 7.4% of the total employees. Many food processing factories concentrated in Ishinomaki, Kesennuma and Ofunato were totally destroyed. Some have already decided to relocate to other areas of Japan or overseas. A local bank estimated that Kesennuma City lost half of its GRP and one-third of its employment from the earthquake. Even if settlements and fishing ports are reconstructed, most people cannot live there without a job. Most food processing factories were located on a reclaimed land in Kesennuma City. The reconstruction offactories there is now prohibited because of land subsidence. Kesennuma City plans to raise the land a few meters, but this will take years.

The ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) estimated on August 16,2011 that the total amount of damage to agricultural land and facilities was 790 billion yen, an amount smaller than for fisheries (1.2 trillion yen). 24,000 ha of arable land was flooded by the tsunami in Miyagi, Fukushima, and Ibaraki Prefectures. The land has been damaged by salt water, and irrigation facilities were broken. An irrigation reservoir in Fukushima collapsed from the earthquake. The nuclear power plant accident seems to be having a greater effect on Japanese agriculture than the earthquake. 8300 ha of arable land must be decontaminated in Fukushima, which is not a large area compared to the total area of Japan. Radiation is still being detected in many foods from areas throughout East Japan, and in some cases their distribution is required to be suspended.

4. Reconstruction of transportation infrastructure and public transportation systems

It has been noted that major national roads and the Tohoku Shinkansen were quickly restored after the earthquake, unlike after the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995, and that the Sanriku

Expressway played a major role as a detour around damaged national roads. Many rural areas that had limited public transportation services before the earthquake, however, remained isolated for a long time because major roads and local trains and busses were destroyed by the tsunami. Focusing on Kesennuma City, the East Japan Railway Company's Ofunato Line from Ichinoseki to Kesennuma sustained no damage and resumed operations on April 1, 2011, while the line from Kesennuma to Ofunato along the Sanriku Coast was heavily damaged with no prospect of restoration. The Kesennuma line leading to the southern part of the Sanriku area was also totally destroyed, and although deliberations have only just begun it will probably not be restored but instead shifted to alternative transportation modes or routes. Ferries were unable to use the Kesennuma Port to reach Oshima (Fig. 2), a small island in Kesennuma Bay. Although a small boat began to transport people 2 days after the earthquake, vehicles and machines for delivery and restoration could not be transported until a month and a half later when Edashima City in Hiroshima Prefecture donated a ferry boat. Initially, therefore, the US Navy landed using amphibious assault ships to assist in restoration. Local bus services connecting rural areas were also struck hard by the tsunami. Miyakoh Bus Company, which operates local busses in Kesennuma, lost 31 busses and a bus terminal to the tsunami and to fire. According to the reconstruction plan for Kesennuma City, all public transportation services must be restored. Most companies, however, were in the red even before the earthquake due to a declining ridership. Rapid depopulation means the number of passengers will not recover to pre-earthquake levels. Some routes, therefore, will be abandoned as companies are forced to scale back their operations.

All local governments in Iwate and Miyagi had announced reconstruction plans by the end of December 2011. Few local governments, however, have seriously discussed their public transportation systems. If governments restore public transportation services to pre-earthquake levels, the system will be unsustainable. It is absolutely necessary that each local government considers its future public transportation systems using a "backcasting" approach to ensure that services remain sustainable decades later. Backcasting has been used to evaluate sustainable development around the world since the end of the last century (see for example [2]). Doi et al. pointed out that an integrated approach is necessary to promote the dynamic co-evolution of transportation, land use, and infrastructure [3]. They suggested that small, low-speed electric vehicles for one or two persons would be suitable for the super-aged cities of the future. The Reconstruction Design

Fig. 2. Ferries carried into the port of Oshima, Kesennuma City. Photo by the author, May 18, 2011.

Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake (http://www., in its report, suggested the introduction ofcutting-edge, independent, decentralized energy systems in "smart villages" constructed in rural areas. Such systems would comprehensively combine efficient utilization of energy-saving systems, the use of diverse energy sources including renewable energy, a solution to output instability based on the introduction of storage batteries, and utilization of cogeneration (combined heat and power) using gas and other fuels. In such smart villages electric vehicles could be easily charged anywhere, and their batteries could be used as an emergency source of electricity.

We have to develop a transportation system that serves the elderly in all rural areas of Japan, so it is good that new transportation systems be introduced and tested in disaster areas before they are spread throughout the country. A rural area might be suitable for field tests of automatic vehicle operation systems owing to its light volume of traffic. 1f smart villages and new transportation systems are introduced together, it will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas-ses. People will not need to own electric vehicles. There are already some car sharing services at temporary housing complexes. A small electric vehicle sharing service can ensure low-cost mobility for the elderly while creating employment for local people.

5. Nature restoration on damaged land

Many rural settlements were destroyed by the tsunami. The government fully supports the relocation of these settlements. After relocation, the former residential sites can be used for factories, commercial facilities, or agriculture but not for housing. Many local governments have plans to provide a public park or build a monument to the disaster. The tsunami damaged many natural conservation areas, but they have begun to recover on their own, with much of the damaged land transforming into a halophytic marsh. Most of Japan's natural coastline has been lost or developed for agricultural and urban land uses. Breakwaters have usually been built on the remaining natural coast. The government has considered how high the breakwaters to build in disaster areas are. Iwate Prefecture has presented Rikuzentakata City with a scheme for 12.5 and 12.8-meter breakwaters. The residents want breakwaters of 15 m because the recent tsunami, which destroyed the central areas of the city, reached 13.8 m. On the other hand, some people in Kesennuma City strongly oppose a Miyagi Prefecture scheme to erect breakwaters of height ranging from 5.0 to 11.8 m even though their

city was ravaged by a 12-meter tsunami. Kesennuma was once a famous sightseeing spot owing to the beauty of its coastal landscape.

One settlement has a plan to restore a halophytic marsh on a damaged land where all but five houses were swept away or destroyed by the tsunami. The residents are designing a plan to relocate to a higher ground. The settlement is located on two small valleys, whose lowlands are always flooded (Fig. 3). Some residents intend to keep the water and restore a marsh there even though a high breakwater would be built. The result, of course, will depend on what agreement is reached with other residents, but a group of scientists 1 belong to has begun to research the environment, flora, and fauna in the marsh.

6. Consensus building for local reconstruction planning

As 1 mentioned, all local governments have designed their reconstruction plans. Local governments must then finalize each plan with local residents. The Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake also suggested that respecting the needs of local residents requires the creation of a system that duly reflects their various opinions; when collecting the opinions of residents, local governments must ensure that the opinions of women, children, the elderly, the disabled, and foreign residents, among others, are appropriately reflected and that the process also considers future generations. This is certainly clear, but not easy. As I noted in Section 2, it is difficult to gather former residents together for a discussion due to the location of their current residences and the lack of a meeting space. Coordinators or facilitators are needed to further a discussion because conflicts may arise among residents, but there are only a few helping in rural areas. Local governments do not have sufficient staff to play this role and local residents do not know how to access such experts. After the Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004, Niigata Prefecture established, in May 2005, a system of reconstruction assistance personnel who resided in the affected areas and took part in a wide range of local activities while also caring for and observing those affected by the disaster. The Reconstruction Design Center was established in April 2008 under the Chuetsu Organization for a Safe and Secure Society, which supports reconstruction assistance personnel working in each district who continue to play a major role as coordinators or facilitators in revitalizing local areas. This system can immediately be adopted into the areas affected by the recent disaster. Beginning in August 2011, Miyagi Prefecture has tentatively implemented a similar system in Higashi Matsushima

Fig. 3. Flooded farmland in rural Kesennuma City. Photo by the author, November 14, 2011.

City and Minamisanriku Town. As of the end of March 2012, eight staff members have worked in this role to promote reconstruction. The government plans to spread the system to all disaster areas, although details have yet to be announced.

Consensus building between local residents is definitely important for local planning, but the involvement of many kinds of actors in reconstruction plans and action is also necessary, including NGOs and local businesses. For various reasons, some local residents live temporarily outside of their hometowns. They may wish to take part in discussions about reconstruction but face difficulty in attending multiple sessions. In addition, many people who are originally from a disaster area but now live in metropolitan areas also want to do something for their hometowns. Many people went to the disaster areas as volunteers to help those affected during the months following the earthquake. Many would like to continue to help, but cannot visit frequently. Thus, a platform is necessary, one through which many kinds of actors, including local residents, can discuss reconstruction and the future. Social network services (SNS) are well suited to this purpose. Students at Keio University built a Facebook group ( wakuwaku.kesennuma/) (Fig. 4) in June 2011 that had 735 members as of mid-April 2012. Ten percent of the members are residents of Kesennuma City while the rest live outside. Some members, most of them originally from Kesennuma, live in foreign countries. They met through the Facebook group and then set up an English-language Facebook page to appeal to the world for help (http://www.facebook. com/kesennuma). The Facebook group has played a major role in real projects. It was decided in June that the summer festival in central Kesennuma would not be held in 2011 because the area was flooded by spring tides and had not been restored. Just after this decision, some citizens started to plan another event in place of the festival. They asked for help through Facebook. Many members helped them to prepare the event, including some students from my campus. The event was held from August 11 to 13, 2011 in several locations in Kesennuma City.

SNS are also a useful platform for providing information to residents outside of their hometowns. However, SNS are not popular among older people and may be difficult for them to use. Still, a

broadcast of local meetings using free systems like Skype or Ustream would certainly be useful. The important role played after the earthquake by information volunteers in shelters who helped the affected gather information from the Internet has been noted. Information volunteers can support the dissemination of information within disaster areas and help former residents outside.

7. Conclusion

The earthquake on March 11, 2011 was the greatest in Japanese history, although there have been many other great natural disasters since the dawn of history. We will certainly face great disasters in the future. The tsunami caused by the earthquake totally destroyed the 10-meter breakwaters in Taro District, which had been described as a walled fortress. Taro's local residents believed that no tsunami could ever reach their settlement beyond the breakwaters. This was a big reason why roughly 200 people died there. This teaches us that we cannot completely protect ourselves against natural disasters, and must be prepared for the unexpected. Since the earthquake, many experts have begun to talk about gensai, meaning the mitigation of damage from a disaster. However, Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures plan to construct breakwaters of higher than 10 m around rural settlements. Many residents oppose the plan because they will be unable to watch the sea when an earthquake strikes. In addition, if local residents move to a higher ground in accordance with the relocation plan and no longer use the lowlands, a breakwater seems unnecessary. In this case, the natural coastline and wetlands must be restored.

The cities and rural areas of the Sanriku Coast were restored and rebuilt after the disasters in 1896 and 1933. Many newcomers came to the affected areas because the population of Japan was increasing at that time. However, Japan faces a rapid depopulation during this century. Although we must design reconstruction plans that consider the issues of future depopulation and aging, only a few local governments mention these issues in their reconstruction plans. Minamisanriku Town has predicted a decreasing population for 10 years after the disaster in their reconstruction plan. Most of the local governments affected want to restore everything just as it was before the disaster, and as soon


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Fig. 4. Facebook group for discussing the reconstruction and future of Kesennuma City.

as possible. This might lead to many areas that are unsustainable due to depopulation. In order to build cities and regions that are sustainable for decades, we have to design reconstruction plans using a backcasting approach that predicts future population and aging trends.

Most local governments have announced a reconstruction plan, with the exception of those in Fukushima Prefecture that remain strongly affected by residual radiation. They have to develop local plans with local residents. Although consensus building among local residents is the most important issue, they suffer from a lack of expertise and budget. On the other hand, many NGOs, universities and private companies continue to support local residents. Local governments must form partnerships with such organizations. Organizations acting in the same area rarely share information with each other, so we must build a platform for the sharing of ideas and problems. SNS can be a powerful

tool for this purpose, enabling local residents to find not only experts but also co-workers for facing new challenges. However, we must hold workshops in real spaces because there are some residents, especially the elderly, who cannot access SNS. The government must implement a scheme to support such an organization.


[1] T. Yamaguchi, Tsunami and Villages, Koshunkaku-shobo, 1943 (in Japanese).

[2] H.A.J. Mulder, W. Biesiot, Transition to a Sustainable Society: a Backcasting Approach to Modeling Energy and Ecology, E. Elgar, 1998.

[3] K. Doi, T. Hasegawa, S. Kobayashi, I. Sugiyama, M. Mizohata, A study on "quality of mobility" demanded in super-aged cities, IATSS Review 35 (2011) 182-193 (in Japanese).