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Rescuing homeless tsunami victims by law

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The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 unleashed unprecedented tremors and a tsunami up to twelve metres high, which travelled ten kilometres inland, leaving thousands of buildings collapsed, burnt or swept away. Over 200.000 homes had to be written off entirely, rendering 300.000 victims homeless overnight and cramped in emergency housing to this day. Dispossessed and often jobless, former home-owners and shopkeepers find themselves in the position to be seeking loans to rebuild, while being unable to pay off pre-disaster mortgages. This so-called “double-loan crisis” entrenches social inequality, fuels loan-sharking and debt suicide, promotes homelessness and insolvency, and threatens local financial institutions, constituting a major obstacle to disaster recovery.

Based on field research and inspired by personal experience of several earthquakes in Japan, I will examine the situation of homeless, indebted tsunami victims from a legal perspective. Touching upon issues of disaster management, real property and insolvency law, banking regulation, social welfare and charity, the talk critically assesses policy responses to the “double-loan crisis” by the Government and NGOs. Drawing on scholarship from Japan, I will discuss post-disaster distributive justice and the way in which burdens of risk and recovery are shared between victims and society in the wake of the world’s costliest natural disaster.

Julius Weitzdoerfer is a new Charles and Katharine Darwin Research Fellow. He studied journalism and Japanese in Tokyo and Leipzig as well as law in Hamburg, Shanghai, Kyoto and Cambridge. He was an editor and co-host on national radio and television (NHK) in Japan and is currently completing a monograph on financial crimes in Japan. His work covers vibrant aspects of Japanese law, including organized crime, criminal trials, consumer protection, disaster response and the Fukushima liability case.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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