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2014年7月20日 (日)

地方創生本部 人口減克服へ総力を結集せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Coordinated, multifaceted efforts needed to stem population decline
地方創生本部 人口減克服へ総力を結集せよ

The sharp decline in the population is a far more serious problem for provincial areas than for big cities. Central and local governments must do their best together with the private sector to deal with this problem.

An office with dozens of staffers will be opened under the Cabinet Secretariat as early as the coming week to launch a “government task force to reinvent communities, people and jobs” in the nation. The task force is expected to play a central role in reinventing provincial areas, through dealing with issues such as population decline and revitalization of rural communities.

“The planning of measures to rejuvenate provincial areas, which is currently spread across ministries, will be consolidated [in the task force],” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at an informal meeting of Cabinet ministers. “We will try our best to help rural areas reinvent sustainable communities.”

The task force will be officially established when a state minister is appointed at the next Cabinet reshuffle to lead the unit. It is ultimately headed by the prime minister.

Population decline is a significant problem that affects Japan’s future. To counter it, the government must take a variety of measures such as helping young people marry, have babies and rear children; promoting the migration and settlement of people in rural areas; and creating new jobs there.

The Japan Policy Council, a private panel of experts chaired by Hiroya Masuda, former internal affairs and communications minister, forecast that about half of the municipalities in the nation are likely to disappear in the future due to a sharp decline in the number of young women.

Local governments have deep concerns about the issue. The Association of Prefectural Governors has adopted an “emergency declaration,” demanding that central government drastically boost countermeasures against the falling birth rate.

Comprehensive strategy needed

“Japan is stricken with a mortal illness,” said Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, who chairs the association.

According to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 prefectures have established across-the-board sections for the promotion of measures to raise the birth rate and attract young families and companies to their areas from larger cities. Local governments should share their ideas and plans with each other, and proceed with measures by learning from other successful cases.

A long-term strategy is essential to reinvent rural areas and curb the population decline.

The task force will likely draft a comprehensive strategy for the years up to 2020, and create a longer-term vision. It should listen to a variety of opinions, and be unconstrained by conventional ideas.

The central government already has several polices in place to revitalize provincial areas. They are all plans to curb the population drain by creating a central hub in each rural area, such as the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s idea of central cities in provincial areas and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry’s idea of alliances between high-level rural cities.

The task force must coordinate such policies in a comprehensive manner, so that their implementation is not hindered by sectionalism between government offices.

The prime minister has also expressed his idea to triple to 3,000 the number of people living in depopulated municipalities and helping reinvent local communities. There is no magic bullet to stop depopulation. Straightforward and constant efforts in software and other fields are required to solve the problem.

Unified local elections will be held next spring. They should be used as an opportunity for not only political parties and their election candidates, but also the whole nation, to contemplate how population decline could be controlled.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 19, 2014)


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