Across the disaster-hit region nearly 100,000 people are still sleeping on the floor in gymnasiums, schools, and community centers. Only half of the 52,000 temporary homes that the government requested have been built. Businesses starved of funds by the lack of a government aid budget – held up in a fractious parliament – are paralyzed. Unemployment rates here have soared to four times the national average.
Some observers blame the size of the tsunami for the slow progress. "The damage is so severe it is beyond the capacity of Japan to mend" without help, says Sayako Nogiwa, an aid worker who is now running operations in the earthquake zone for the nongovernmental organization Association for Aid and Relief.
Others blame Japan's squabbling politicians. Every bill must be painstakingly negotiated with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. It took until June 20 before a basic law on reconstruction was enacted. Parliament extended its current session by 70 days last month so as to debate a second supplementary budget and a bond issue to fund this year's deficit – both critical to the northeast's economic recovery. But the opposition has withdrawn from an agreement to guarantee passage of the two bills because Premier Naoto Kan has refused to set a firm date for his resignation.