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Japan: Catastrophic Disaster Response Activated Following Hokkaido Earthquake

(Sept. 27, 2018) Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, was hit by a powerful earthquake on September 6, 2018, causing people great suffering from the disruption of their normal lives and severe economic damage. (Haruka Nuga, Death Toll Rises, Flights Resume, Power Back in Japan Quake, AP NEWS (Sept. 8, 2018).) Prime Minister Abe announced on September 13, 2018, that his cabinet is likely to designate the disaster as catastrophic under the Act on Special Financial Assistance to Manage Recovery from Catastrophic Disasters. (Catastrophic Disasters Act, Act No. 150 of 1962, amended by Act No. 47 of 2016, art. 2 (in Japanese), Japan’s e-Gov website; Prime Minister Abe to Clarify Prospect of Designating Hokkaido Earthquake a Catastrophic Disaster, Also Will Consider Typhoon No. 21, JIJI (Sept. 13, 2018) (in Japanese).)

Under the Catastrophic Disasters Act, if a disaster is designated as catastrophic by a cabinet order, affected local governments can receive more grants for their recovery efforts from the national government. (Catastrophic Disasters Act arts. 2 & 3.) Previously, it took a few months to designate a disaster as catastrophic. (Id.) In December 2017, managers of the Central Disaster Prevention Council decided to introduce measures to accelerate the process and reduce uncertainty for local governments. One such measure is for the cabinet office to announce the “prospects” for designating a disaster as catastrophic when the minimum standards have been satisfied, even before a final assessment has been done. When the relevant government agencies can accelerate the process, it is expected that the prospects for designating the disaster as catastrophic would be announced about a week after the disaster. (Regarding Meeting of Managers of Central Disaster Prevention Council on December 21, 2017, on ‘Large-Scale Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Emergency Response Policy’ and ‘Improving of [Disaster] Management by Earlier Designation of Catastrophic Disaster, DISASTER MANAGEMENT, CABINET OFFICE (last visited Sept. 25, 2018) (in Japanese).) This is the second time that such an approach has been taken. The first time was on July 15, 2018, when Prime Minister Abe announced the prospects of designating flooding in western Japan as a catastrophic disaster, a week after the hard rain ended. (West Japan Flood to Be Designated as Catastrophic Disaster, Prime Minister Announces ‘Prospects,’ ASAHI SHINBUN (July 15, 2018) (in Japanese).)