Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Restoring agriculture and food sector in Japan aftermath Tohoku Earthquake and Fukushima: A thought notes.

Fitting the Radiation Safety Piece into the Jigsaw Puzzle: Restoring Agriculture and Food Sector Aftermath the Great Tohoku Disaster



A Thought Notes: Draft for Comments



SVRK Prabhakar

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Hayama, Japan

August 2011

Important Questions to Ponder

Following are some important questions raised among policy community.

ž  What measures are required to kick-start the agriculture and food sector in the affected areas?

ž  To what extent the civil and nuclear safety authorities are connected at the local level (or how best they can be strengthened)?

ž  What is the level of radiation safety preparedness in prefectures with nuclear power plants? [What level of changes happened in these prefectures before and after the Fukushima?]

ž  How people perceive and rate different aspects of responses by various agencies aftermath of Fukushima?

This thought notes mainly deals with the first question listed above i.e. what measures are required to kick-start agriculture in the affected areas!

Broad Category of Measures Needed: Immediate and Long-term

ž  Immediate measures

     Establish Agricultural and Food Restoration Committees at all levels

     Initiate damage assessment and decision support systems

     Make available information on immediate ‘deployability’ of agriculture in the affected areas (how-soon, how-far, how many, and how farmers can get to their normal lives)

     Enhanced insurance payouts and other relief measures

ž  Long-term measures:

     Strengthening Institutional systems (and farmer support systems)

     Strengthening capacity across the spectrum of stakeholders involved in food production and distribution chain

     Introduction of policies to enable the above


Establishing Agricultural and Food Restoration Committees and Guidelines

ž   Consist of an agricultural technology expert (preferably from a research center or university), radiological food health specialist, and JAs, local administrative representatives. Committees at local level can have farmer representatives.

ž   Would have to be established at the national, provincial (ken) and district (gun) levels anchored within the agricultural department of the prefectural governments and the Ministry of Agriculture at the national level.

ž   Able to engage experts on specific subject matters (e.g. salinity, infrastructure engineers, radiation safety etc) as the need may arise.

ž   Will assist governments at relevant levels in formulating plans for relief and rehabilitation of agriculture and food.

ž   Will come up with guidelines and procedural details for farmers for rejuvenating the agricultural activities and to avail various policy provisions that government has provided for them.


Initiate Damage Assessment and Decision Support Systems

Impacts of the triple-disaster:

ž  Salinization of vast agricultural land along the Northeast coast of Japan

ž  Radiation contamination in areas near Fukushima nuclear power plant

ž  Damage to irrigation and other related agricultural infrastructure due to the earthquake and tsunami

Legend for the Figure 1:

A: refers to areas with all forms of impacts: salinization, radiation and physical damage

B: refers to areas with physical damage and radiation

C: Refers to areas with salinization and radiation

D: refers to areas with salinization and physical damage

E, F, G refers to areas only with radiation, physical damage, and salinization respectively.

ž  Initiate measures to identify and quantify areas and impacts related to radiation, salinization and physical damage (this step spans from short to medium term but should be initiated at early stages of disaster management).

     Damage assessment teams at village and city levels.

     Self-assessment forms wherever possible and through websites if the nature of damage allow.

     Systems to collect soil samples for checking radiation and salinity levels.

     Livelihood and skill mapping to identify means of livelihood diversification for farmers who cannot farm sooner (or never).


Re-deploying Agriculture in Areas with No or Safe Radiation Levels

ž  Salinity could be a potential limitation in these areas. Classify areas with various degree of salinity

ž  Areas with low salinity

     Introduce saline tolerant rice varieties

ž  Areas with medium salinity

     Provide support for reclamation (scraping, leaching, flushing as has been done in Iraq and Australia)

     Introduce saline tolerant rice varieties

ž  Areas with high salinity

     Assess feasibility for reclamation (in addition application of gypsum)

     If no reclamation is feasible, Halophytes can provide alternative here (Science, 2008)

ž  More difficult to restore than areas affected with salinity and hence due care should be taken in finalizing plans for restoration in these areas.

ž  Where remediation is not feasible:

     Consider using land for alternative purposes such as wind-mills, solar power fields etc.

     Establishment of ‘sanctuaries’ in areas with relatively low radiation levels.

     Permanent compensation packages to farmers and others affected due to evacuation and loss of livelihood

ž  Where remediation is feasible:

     Initiate procedures for phytoremediation and other reclamation procedures.

     Continuous monitoring of radiation levels for timely restoration of permissible activities.

The role of JA and other Related Agencies

ž  Strengthen its own staff to provide suitable skills and knowledge to farmers on farming under saline conditions, phytoremediation etc.

ž  Participate and contribute to Agriculture and Food Restoration Committees

ž  Hazen insurance payments to those farmers who obtained crop insurance through JA and associated agencies.

ž  Assess its post-disaster performance and establish its own internal standard operating procedures for quicker response to similar events in the future.

ž  Assist agriculture extension centers to disseminate necessary information and skills to farmers for restoration.


Cooperatives and Extension Departments

ž  Strengthen agricultural cooperatives (especially the nōgyō kyōdō kumiai or JA) and local extension agencies including Japan Agricultural Development and Extension Association (JADEA).

ž  Assess its post-disaster performance and establish standard operating procedures to handle similar events in the future.

ž  Through the above agencies, provide appropriate knowledge and skills to farmers on possible livelihood alternatives in the short-term and long-term.



ž  Integrate radiation hazard and response procedures into community level disaster management plans and response procedures including earthquake emergency kits.

ž  Display of relevant SOPs and standards in community halls where jichikai and other community members meet on regular basis.

ž  Disseminate appropriate FAQs to bust myths and misperceptions related to radiation safety.


Prefectural and National Level Interventions

ž Agriculture and Food Specific Interventions:

     Assess the health impacts of indices proposed by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan and integrate the same into the Food Safety Standards of Japan.

     Integrate radiation standards into major food certifications offered in the country in consultation with Japan Agricultural Standards Association (JAS)

  Review and modify HACCP and TQM standards to accommodate related radiation safety considerations.

  Establish regulations for screening and certification procedures for radiation safety in food.

  Mandatory display of radiation levels in food in retail stores through labeling.

  Mandatory certification of farms for radiation safety in areas affected by radiation.

     Move from the primary responsibility of individual food vendors to check and report radiation safety  towards legally binding and compulsory monitoring and reporting procedures.

     Establish sufficient radiation safety testing equipment for food.

ž  Generic interventions:

     Assess radiation hazard preparedness learning from the Tohoku incident and strengthen the gaps.

     Greater connectivity between civil and radiation safety authorities for better radiation safety preparedness. This should be the priority at the prefectural and local levels and especially in those prefectures where nuclear power plants operate.

     Dissemination of necessary radiation safety information to communities (jichikai), integration with the civil disaster management planning, mock-drills, and other activities carried out as a part of ‘Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act’.

     Assess its post-disaster performance and establish standard operating procedures to handle similar events in the future for all relevant civil emergency management agencies.


Thank You

Please write your comments to

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Climate Change Implications for Disaster Risk Management in Japan

Climate Change Implications for Disaster Risk Management in Japan: A Case Study on Perceptions of Risk Management Personnel and Communities in Saijo City


This paper reviews climate change impacts and existing disaster risk management system in Japan and offers results of a structured questionnaire survey of the community leaders and disaster risk management personnel of Saijo city of Japan that assesses their perceptions about dealing with the extreme disasters by the existing disaster risk reduction systems. This study was inspired by the record number of typhoon landfall that has surprised the local government and communities in 2004. While unearthing the hidden vulnerabilities in cities like Saijo, this event has loosened the confidence of local communities on the disaster risk reduction systems. From the study, we conclude that the existing disaster risk management systems needs further fillip and that the proactive community involvement in disaster risk reduction is still in nascent stages. Associating with the scientific community, involving the local communities (including the elderly), enhancing the redundancy in disaster risk management systems, inculcating strategic thinking and micro-level planning, conducting vulnerability assessments by considering the special circumstances including resource constraints of small cities, and better policy coordination across the administrative hierarchy are some important considerations for dealing with the uncertainty brought by the extreme events.
Key words: Japan, climate change, uncertainty, perception, heavy rainfall, community participation, disaster risk management

Suggested citation: 
Prabhakar, S.V.R.K., Y. Iwata, R. Shaw, J. Soulakova, and Y. Takeyuchi. 2012. Climate Change Implications for Disaster Risk Management in Japan: A Case Study on Perceptions of Risk Management Personnel and Communities in Saijo City. Environmental Hazards [under print].

Extended summary and conclusions

From the review presented in this paper, it is clear that there is a growing evidence of the increasing impacts of climate change. The impacts in Japan in general and in the study location of Saijo city in particular are clear in terms of increasing incidences of heavy rainfall events. With the climate projections suggesting an even further increase in the number of such events, this signifies the need for more detailed strategic planning on the part of the governments and other stakeholders including communities. There is a need to uncover hidden vulnerabilities as extreme events and uncertainty increases over time. This call for holistic and inclusive developmental and risk reduction planning. Due to the low income of small cities (‘Chio toshi’), governments are more constrained to put in place effective risk reduction measures. The aged population and concentration of handicapped persons could even exacerbate the impacts of climate change. For example, the higher vulnerability could make climatic events turn worse while the hazard intensities also increase over the years. There is a need for special consideration of such cities while designing risk reduction measures at the prefecture and national levels.
As the subject of disaster management is rest with the local city governments, appropriate capacity building programs facilitated by the national governments by taking the local special circumstances of these cities becomes important. Enhanced preparedness by considering the perceptions of the communities is called for so that the implemented disaster risk reduction measures gains widespread public acceptance, as we see this point coming out very strongly in this paper. For example, involvement of elderly and those who have lived in the city for longer time have shown better memory about the past experiences those could be useful in designing the local disaster risk reduction plans. More micro-level hazard, risk and vulnerability assessments are needed for the city governments to enable people to be aware of their vulnerabilities and help them prepare. Where capacities of city governments are low, the linkages with the adjacent well-to-do cities and prefecture gain importance by reducing the time taken in initiating response and relief actions at the national level. This is more important in countries like Japan where much of the power is delegated to the local governments. Past disasters in Japan have highlighted the failure of national governments in initiating response and relief operations as these functions were fully delegated to the city level governments. While decentralization is important, it should be done in a phased manner accompanied with steady improvement in capacities of local governments such that they can take full advantage of being independent in taking decisions.
Community involvement in disaster risk reduction and coordination among the stakeholders needs to be improved in order to deal with the uncertain risks emanating out of climate change. Such capacity building measures needs to keep in mind the demography of the population of interest. This is important on two counts. Enhancing the disaster preparedness and response capacity of the communities, in addition to working on disaster mitigation, would help communities to be prepared for sudden surprises. Similarly, better coordination by establishing appropriate standard operational procedures would help various DRM agencies to deal with uncertain events. Redundancy in DRM system could help in reducing uncertain risks, for example. Redundancy in telecommunications would help the response machinery to fall back on other means of communication in the event that regular communication channels become defunct. It is evident from this paper that many of the DRM systems were developed in response to disaster events rather than due to the perception of imminent risk. This brings out the need for strategic thinking among the DRM community.
Local wisdom plays an important role in climate change risk reduction. This wisdom can come from relatively older members of the community who have lived in a particular locality for a long duration. Due to the wide gap between age groups in cities like Saijo, challenges typical of the ‘generation gap’ could create difference of opinion as observed in this study. Hence it is important to involve the old members of the community while preparing and implementing any DRM strategy as they are more likely to observe the climate change, as our study has brought out. As a result, their opinion could enhance the effectiveness of an initiative taken by the city government. Due to their familiarity with the local social and cultural characteristics, older members of the community could also be able to convince the other community members on important decisions related to climate change risk reduction. Similarly, the study also has brought out the influence of occupation on what one perceives. The community leaders who are more associated with agriculture, an occupation that is directly influenced by the climate and its change, are more prone to observe changes in the climate than others. Hence, it is relatively easy for the local governments and risk reduction personnel to obtain the consensus of those communities working in climate-risk prone occupations than those working in other occupations. Necessity for capacity building of the city government, in terms of financial and human resources was also raised as an important issue by the government officers who are responsible for disaster management. This corroborates with the fact that the small cities in Japan are resource starved due to outward migration of young generation and subsequent poor development of industries which are important source of income for the city governments. As the disaster management is the function of city governments, any decentralization of powers to city governments should commensurate with appropriate support from the prefecture and national governments. 
The study also brought out that those community leaders who could observe climate change saw existing disaster management systems in effective. As the climate change risks are uncertain, a certain amount of strategic thinking and vision at the local level would be helpful in developing long-term risk reduction strategies. This can be brought about by a better collaboration between the scientific community and the local level DRM functionaries. The majority of the interviewed DRM personnel indicated the lack of clear evidence of climate change impacts in their location, which emphasizes the need to develop tools and techniques that will help identify the local impacts of climate change so that appropriate steps could be taken to address the climate change related risks. Such a tool should also be able to bring long-term perspective thinking and planning to the risk reduction community at the city level. We also have seen that simple tools such as vulnerability maps could win the confidence of community leaders, as these maps could visually inform them about vulnerabilities and help them translate the same into action. Better policy coordination and regular hazard risk assessments can serve as important tools in dealing with the uncertainty. The regular revision of hazard maps could give a timely perspective of change in the hazard risk profile of the region and could give appropriate direction to the local and regional governments in risk reduction planning.