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Japan’s Osaka World Expo Plagued With Cost Overruns, Delays as ‘Fed-Up’ Locals Demand Answers

There is growing concern that the much-trumpeted 2025 Osaka World Expo in Japan will end up a damp squib as problems continue to mount for the project.

Osaka won the right to stage the event in November 2018, beating off challenges from the Azerbaijani city of Baku and Yekaterinburg, in Russia, after Paris withdrew its candidacy for financial reasons. Under the slogan “Designing future society for our lives”, event organisers estimated the total cost at 125 billion yen (US$896.3 million).

It soon emerged that figure was unrealistic, and was hiked nearly 50 per cent in late 2020 to 185 billion yen. Given the impact of the pandemic and the ongoing effects of the conflict in Ukraine, including sharp price rises for fuel and construction materials, that figure is also likely to be eclipsed once the final accounts are completed.

Residents of the Kansai region say they fear they will be left with the financial aftermath, just as Tokyo taxpayers were left to cover a large part of the bill when the Tokyo Olympic Games went well beyond its initial budget.

“The people of Osaka are pretty shrewd and they are thoroughly fed-up with this entire project,” said Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Doshisha University in nearby Kyoto. “I see more people are demanding answers about the costs and the impact this is all going to have on them.

“The bottom line is that we do not know why the city was desperate to have the expo because there are some much better ways of spending all that money,” she said.

Considerable cost overruns are only part of the problem, however, for an event that will start its six-month run on April 13, 2025, and which organisers confidently predict will attract 28 million visitors.

The site selected for the event is the man-made island of Yumeshima, in Osaka Bay, requiring an extension of one of the city’s subway lines. Work on the basic infrastructure projects has slipped behind schedule because of the soaring costs of materials, delays caused by the pandemic and a shortage of labourers.

A further complication is the planned construction on another part of the same 390-hectare artificial island of an integrated resort featuring a casino, high-end hotels, conference facilities and retail and restaurant outlets. Work on that mammoth project will only increase competition for building supplies and manpower when the expo is already short of both, while limited road access will inevitably cause congestion.

To date, 153 countries and regions have signed up to take part in the 184-day expo, yet with less than two years to go until the opening ceremony, the Osaka city government has not received the required paperwork detailing the construction of the 50 pavilions that major countries, including Germany and Switzerland, say they intend to construct themselves.

According to the organisers’ schedule, construction of the pavilions was due to be completed by July 2024 and interior decoration was meant to be finished by January 2025. It looks increasingly unlikely those deadlines will be met.

The remaining pavilions will be built by the expo organisers, including some to be shared among regions, but the same problems of shortages of materials and manpower are expected to cause additional bottlenecks.

In a July 4 editorial, the Asahi newspaper demanded that the project be reviewed to determine whether the original plans were “too optimistic”, pointing out that the original cost estimate was “simply based on the costs of past similar projects” and made no attempt to include any possible hurdles that the project could face.

It also said the local government “should not be allowed to simply place an increased financial burden on the public”, a position residents heartily agree with.

Hama of Doshisha University said the concept of a world expo was “an anachronism” that dated back to the first such event in Paris in 1889.

“Countries may have needed to promote themselves then, but that’s not the world we live in today,” she said. “These events no longer have any soul or spirit and they have merely become opportunities for corruption and for a small number of companies to get even richer.”

Source : SCMP