Construction of temporary housing in earthquake- and tsunami-stricken areas is going slowly, with only 276 units built as of Saturday, far short of the needed 72,000 units.
While housing makers are working as fast as they can to produce housing components, other needed preparations to erect the dwellings are proving difficult.
Municipal government workers with expertise in electricity and plumbing are heading to construction sites to assist.
"We have been operating at full capacity with as many employees as we can handle. But we cannot ship the materials we produce," an official at a prefabricated housing maker said.
The central government has asked the housing industry to provide 30,000 temporary housing units within two months.
Housing manufacturers have added workers to increase production. But at the disaster sites, preparations for construction are lagging.
Hardest-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures said they have secured space for 26,000 houses, but much remains to be done before construction can begin.
Preparations for electrical wiring and water and sewage systems need to be made. In some locations, the ground may need to be reinforced. But there is lack of workers.
"Employees are working responsibly and doing their best to help ensure that evacuees can move into temporary housing as soon as possible, but (it is difficult)," said an official of a housing maker.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, of 5,500 houses ready for construction this week, work only began on 4,500.
Starting next week, total housing production will increase to 6,000 houses per week. Of those, construction is expected to start on only 3,500.
"We want to hand over 4,490 houses (to the prefectures) by the end of the first week of May," said Akihiro Ohata, the land minister, at a news conference Friday.
The land ministry plans to nearly double the size of its expert support group next week from 24 members to 45, adding architects, electricians and plumbers from municipalities nationwide to support projects in the three prefectures.
At present 24 experts from Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere are involved. Another 21 members will join from Yokohama and Kobe on Monday.
Takahiro Uchiyama, a 47-year-old official in charge of construction in Fukuoka, said his city will help as much as possible.
A housing official in Miyagi Prefecture said, "We would appreciate it if the construction process is accelerated with a strengthened support team."
The land ministry is also considering the import of temporary housing from overseas. The ministry has received offers from about 70 companies that produce temporary housing using overseas materials, such as shipping containers.
The ministry will pass on a list of companies to the three prefectures.
On a positive note, the building of the temporary houses is creating jobs for people out of work due to the disaster.
Fukushima Prefecture has begun soliciting building companies based in the prefecture to participate in the housing project. The prefecture plans to send orders out as early as the end of April.
Iwate and Miyagi prefectures will also start soliciting local construction companies.
Zenkenren Co., a national construction industry group, set up an emergency council for temporary housing construction earlier this month. The council will elect a managing company in each of the three prefectures, which will mete out jobs to local electrical, carpentry and interior finishing companies.
Hiroyuki Aoki, who heads Zenkenren, said, "Many building companies are also victims of the earthquake. If they can start constructing temporary housing, it will create jobs and revitalize towns."
(This article was written by Seiichiro Utano and Tatsuro Sakata.)
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