by Miryam Muller in

(Image: Kyodo/AP/PA)

The extraordinary efforts to clear up the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake can be seen here in the town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, in north-east Japan.

The left-hand image was taken following the magnitude 9.0 megathrust event that struck off the coast on 11 March. The right-hand picture was taken at the start of June.

The Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, remarked that it was the "toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan" since the second world war. Official national statistics list more than15,200 people confirmed dead, 8500 missing and 5300 injured. The overall cost of the damage could be in excess of $300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.

The timescale for recovery depends on many factors, from the extent that electricity shortages continue in parts of Japan to the duration of the clean-up at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Nuclear fuel at the plant melted, the reactors were shaken by a series of explosions and there was widespread radioactive contamination. The accident was given the most serious rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts a short-term decline in Japan's economic output, from 3.9 per cent of GDP growth in 2010 to 0.8 per cent in 2011, and a bounce back to 2.3 per cent next year.

These images suggest that full recovery remains a long way off.