Lessons from 2011 quake must be put to use for Japan and the world
Every possible effort must be made to prevent and mitigate damage from major natural disasters that may strike in the future. It is essential to learn from the many lessons of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, to ensure that our nation is better prepared for natural calamities in the future.
A government-sponsored ceremony in Tokyo paid tribute to the memory of those who died in the 2011 catastrophe on Tuesday. The event was attended by about 1,200 people, including the Emperor and Empress. Also present at the ceremony were the chiefs of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with representatives of the victims’ families and foreign ambassadors to this country. All prayed for the souls of the departed.
Attendants included Mikiko Asanuma, who represented the families of the deceased in Iwate Prefecture. “The pain of those who fell victim [to the earthquake], and the great sorrow and suffering of their families must be conveyed to future generations,” she said in her memorial address at the ceremony.
The prime minister reiterated his determination to see implemented a set of measures that his administration has pursued to render Japan disaster-ready and disaster-resistant. “I take to heart the valuable lessons learned from the ordeal, and I will promote efforts to build a country that can resist and withstand damage from disasters in order to steadfastly defend our people from future disasters,” Abe said before the assembled crowd.
The hurdles are high and numerous. They include making seismic retrofits of existing buildings to make them more quake-resistant and revamping outdated infrastructure. There is also an urgent need to prepare in earnest for disasters that have been forecast, including a quake centered just below the surface of Tokyo or a quake in the Nankai Trough. Either one of these envisaged disasters could strike any day.
But we must avoid the pointless allocation of massive budgets to nonessential public works projects. What is needed instead is an examination of whether the costs a given project will incur will be worth the benefits derived from it.
In pursuing improved disaster-resistance, it is important not to limit ourselves to improving the quake resistance of buildings and infrastructure, but to incorporate human expertise, experience and other intangible resources related to disaster management.
Raising public awareness
According to a Cabinet Office survey conducted in late 2013, just over 60 percent of respondents said they had discussed how to cope with disasters with their families in the past one or two years. That figure is nearly double the number from a similar poll taken in 2002.
The 2011 disaster did much to raise the public’s awareness of disaster damage prevention. This improvement must be exploited to help make each local community better prepared for disaster management.
Learning the skills that can help mitigate disaster damage should start in childhood. We should teach how earthquakes and tsunami are generated and the ways they can strike people and buildings. We should teach people history of their communities, and build awareness of the sorts of of disaster likely to hit their community, and the areas most at risk. This will all require improvements to disaster-mitigation education and evacuation drills.
People should always be encouraged to recognize the importance of helping one other within their communities in the event of a disaster.
At a House of Councillors Budget Committee session, the prime minister emphasized the importance of imparting this nation’s hard-won knowledge to the rest of the world to promote disaster damage management worldwide. He said in the Diet that doing so “is Japan’s obligation as a nation that received helping hands from so many other countries in the wake of the  great earthquake.”
Our nation is extraordinarily prone to such natural calamities as earthquakes, typhoons and landslides due to heavy rainfalls.
For years, our nation has offered disaster-damage reduction technologies to less developed countries in the form of official development assistance. The invaluable lessons Japan has learned from the various disasters it has overcome should be put to use to improve diplomatic relations with other countries.
In March next year, the United Nations’ third World Conference on Disaster Reduction will be held in Sendai to discuss guidelines for disaster-damage management.
Japan should not only lead discussions in the U.N. meeting. It should use the conference as an opportunity to show the rest of the world how far post-quake rehabilitation has come in areas hit by the 2011 catastrophe and demonstrate its efforts to make each community in this country strong and resilient against disaster damage.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2014)