Japan’s post-tsunami spending adrift

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• Funding to support whaling, ostensibly for research.

‘Trickle down’ effect

About $380,000 went to promoting the Tokyo Sky Tree, a transmission tower that is the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast structure.

An additional $35 million was requested by the Justice Ministry for a publicity campaign to “reassure the public” about the risks of big disasters, the audit said.

Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrew’s University in Osaka, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.

“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Mr. Matsumura told The Associated Press.

Near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which sustained the additional blow from the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, recovery work has barely begun.

More than 325,000 of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone or forced to flee the areas around the nuclear plant after the March 11, 2011, disaster remain homeless or away from their homes, according to the most recent figures available.

In Rikuzentakata, a fishing enclave where 1,800 people were killed or disappeared as the tsunami scoured the harbor, rebuilding has yet to begin in earnest, said Takashi Kubota, who left a government job in Tokyo in May 2011 to become the town’s deputy mayor.

The tsunami destroyed 3,800 of Rikuzentakata’s 9,000 homes. The first priority, he said, has been finding land for rebuilding homes — on higher ground.

Most evacuees are housed, generally unhappily, in temporary shelters in school playgrounds and sports fields.

“I can sum it up in two words — speed and flexibility — that are lacking,” Mr. Kubota said. Showing a photo of the downtown area that no longer exists, he said, “In 19 months, there have basically been no major changes. There is not one single new building yet.”

Rebuilding challenges

The government has pledged to spend $295 billion this decade on reconstruction and disaster prevention, $245 billion of it within five years.

But more than half of the reconstruction budget remains unspent, according to the government’s audit report.

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