The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 12, 2012)
Utilize lessons of March 11 to better prepare for disasters
We have reached a day of remembrance, one year after the major disaster on March 11. A memorial service is to be held by the central government in Tokyo, and similar ceremonies are scheduled to take place in the affected regions as well.
To pray for the repose of victims' souls, we will offer at 2:46 p.m. a silent prayer from the bottom of our hearts for those who died in the disaster.
The death toll is now 15,854, while more than 3,100 people are listed as missing. The people who are still looking for their beloved relatives must be filled with sorrow. Our hearts ache for them.
Gaps in degree of recovery
In a coastal district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, a seawall destroyed by the tsunami stands in horrible condition. Huge piles of debris and a vast number of abandoned automobiles can be seen.
A factory area facing the sea and residential areas that stretched inland were almost completely washed away by tsunami. Only a fraction of these areas have finally managed to start post-disaster reconstruction.
Part of the quay at a nearby fishing port sank into the sea. Local fishermen have resumed fishing but say pieces of debris occasionally get caught in their nets.
"If processors resumed their business operations at our port, it would regain its vitality," the skipper of a fishing boat said hopefully.
A senior official of a local economic organization said: "There are large gaps in the degree of recovery among industries, business firms and families. It's a far cry from post-disaster recovery for the whole region.
"But everyone strongly wants to keep hanging in there."
We support such feelings. Local governments must respond more carefully than ever.
Offering mental care to people affected by the disaster is also an important task. Many people have complained about sleeplessness, anxiety and frustration since immediately after the disaster.
Even after they moved into makeshift houses or housing units leased by local governments, the number of people suffering emotionally has shown no sign of declining. Rather, there has reportedly been a sharp increase in the number of people who have become addicted to heavy drinking or gambling, or quit their jobs for emotional reasons.
A local psychiatrist believes many are suffering because their unemployment benefits will end soon, they cannot find jobs despite their growing concern, or they have no prospect of ever returning home.
The psychiatrist said many people's mental anguish could likely be eased if authorities provided a clear picture of the future.
It is important for both the central and local governments to present and implement visibly a post-disaster reconstruction plan through which affected people can find hope for their future lives. We hope the Reconstruction Agency helps them with all its power.
The lessons learned from the catastrophe must be utilized to enhance the nation's readiness for a future major disaster.
The March 11 tsunami, which was said to be on a scale "beyond expectation," triggered the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station.
The spread of large amounts of radioactive substances wreaked havoc on agricultural, fisheries and other industries in the disaster-struck areas. Along with the resulting public anxiety over food safety and human health, harmful rumors about the threat of radiation have lingered, casting a shadow all over the country.
More than 62,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still living outside the prefecture.
Review standard assumptions
An expert panel of the government's Central Disaster Prevention Council chaired by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda came out with a set of proposals in autumn. The panel called for a thorough review of the conventional assumptions about earthquakes and tsunami as well as antidisaster countermeasures "on the premise of the maximum possible earthquake and tsunami and taking each and every conceivable possibility into account."
Regarding major earthquakes anticipated in the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai regions on the Pacific coast, a study team of the Cabinet Office is scheduled to soon make public its estimations about the maximum intensities of temblors and largest possible heights of tsunami.
A study group of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry recently announced research findings regarding a Tokyo metropolitan epicentral earthquake, in which the focus would be just beneath the metropolitan area.
The findings showed that extensive areas of the metropolitan area could be subject to an earthquake more powerful than previously forecast, a quake with the strongest intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.
The 11,000 fatalities and economic damage of 112 trillion yen previously forecast for a metropolitan epicentral earthquake must be reviewed, the study group has said.
The central government and local governments must study and implement specific measures on the basis of these disaster risk evaluations by public bodies.
Plans for enhancing earthquake resistance should be promoted further for such public facilities as schools and hospitals, as well as buildings on arterial roads.
In coastal regions, it is vitally important to work out tsunami countermeasures combining such "hardware" efforts as strengthening seawalls with "software" aspects centering on effective evacuation, such as the improvement of hazard maps.
Also of utmost significance is that residents of every community be more prepared for disasters. At the very least, residents must confirm hazard maps and participate in antidisaster drills.
Residents should draw up evacuation plans for their communities on their own initiative. They should consult expert opinion to secure evacuation routes and evacuation sites such as earthquake-resistant buildings of about five stories, and higher ground.
Recently, large-scale exercises have been conducted in such big cities as Tokyo and Osaka for commuters who will have difficulty returning home in the event of a major disaster. It is important to scrutinize what is effective in such drills and also consider what should be improved to make subsequent drills more effective.
'Disaster reduction' a key goal
The government--in light of the terrible experience of dealing with the earthquake and tsunami calamities while simultaneously coping with the nuclear crisis and radiation problems--is studying how to prepare for and address a "complex of disasters."
The government will have to make special responses, for example, when a major earthquake in a large city results in such multiple problems as fires over an extensive area, leakage of toxic gases from factories and serious accidents involving means of transportation.
The order of priorities in government responses to a complex of disasters and clarification of the chain of command must be thoroughly studied without delay.
The concept of "disaster mitigation" or "disaster reduction" to minimize damage in the aftermath of a calamity--however catastrophic--is of pivotal significance in this regard, as we must be "prepared even for the unforeseeable."
We must pledge anew on this occasion that the precious lives lost in the Great East Japan Earthquake will not have been lost in vain.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 11, 2012)