Sunday, October 23, 2011

Implications of Fukushima on the resilience of Japan

The Great Tohoku Earthquake that occurred on 11th March 2011 is the most powerful earthquake in the known history of Japan and definitely a major catastrophe that Japan has to deal after the second world war. A chain of events unfolded after the earthquake that included a tsunami of historical magnitude that damaged critical infrastructure such as nuclear power plants located in Fukushima leading to release of unknown quantities of nuclear radiation into the environment. As a consequence of these series of events, lives of more than 25,000 people were lost, many went missing, and hundreds and thousands were displaced into various prefectures of Japan. Though Japan is known for its advanced earthquake and tsunami risk mitigation measures, these events have clearly overwhelmed the national and prefectural administration leading to a national emergency that is still unfolding.

Subsequently, many policy makers and disaster risk reduction specialist in Japan and abroad have been focused on how to rehabilitate the displaced people and how to reconstruct the affected areas. The national and affected prefectural governments have put in place several measures for rescue, rehabilitation, compensation, and reconstruction in the affected areas. Amidst all these discussions and developments, one aspect seemed didn’t not get much attention as much as it deserves i.e. the radiation safety aftermath of damage to nuclear power plants in Fukushima. The release of unknown quantities of radiation into environment has several implications in terms of health safety of citizens even beyond the disaster affected areas, mistrust on Japanese exports, delayed rehabilitation in areas with high radiation exposure, demand for imported food, and implications in terms of economic growth for a country whose economy primarily depends on exports.
This raises important questions that need immediate answers from the perspective of civil society and disaster risk reduction professionals: what radiation related issues are faced by the civil society, how food safety regulations in Japan consider radiation contamination, what specific limitations are posed by the radiation for speedy disaster recovery, and what it all means for the resilience of the Japanese society as a whole? These are also the questions that the civil society in Japan is interested to know answers for, as evident from several discussion boards and networks that have emerged on Internet.

Resilience of Japan:

Japan is known for the resilience it has shown by emerging as a stronger state each and every time it is hit by  major catastrophe in the past, let it be a man made (i.e. second world war, or dealing with environmental pollution within its boarders) or natural (e.g. Kobe earthquake).

From the point of Tohoku and Fukushima events, both positive examples (e.g. on the way the local communities and businesses dealt with event) and not so positive ones (e.g. on the way the governments fell apart in reaching a consensus on what can be done and how best can be done as represented by civil movement in the country). It seems to show that there is a lot of factors that are playing at the local level to make them resilient which doesnt seem to reflect at the larger level of governance (say at the level of elected leadership either at prefecture or national level). This conclusion could be baseless since my understanding of events happening around in Japan are far from close due to language barrier and as some say due to the state control of media. Nevertheless, there is a need to look into the factors that play into this confused state of affairs. Any leads on how to go forward on this? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

GMS Countries and Early Warning Systems in the Context of Food-Water-energy Nexus

Suggested citation: Prabhakar, S.V.R.K. 2011. Climate Risks to Agriculture/Food Security in the GMS Countries and Early Warning Systems in the Context of Food-Water-energy Nexus. International Conference on GMS 2020: Balancing Economic Growth and  Environmental Sustainability, 2011, 15 - 16 November 2011, Hotel Plaza Athénée, Bangkok. Working Group on Environment (WGE) and Asian  Development Bank (ADB).


The Greater Mekong Subregion has undergone a rapid economic growth over the past decade with positive impacts on the human development and negative impacts on the environment and natural resources. The growing demand for energy in the region and high fuel prices during 2008 has seen several countries declaring ambitious biofuel strategies from which they retreated covertly later on. This has set a debate on nexus between food, water, and energy in the region. Though the biofuels fever has died down sooner than expected, there are chances for reemergence of debate over food-water-energy due to several traditional and non-traditional pressures discussed in this paper that include increasing energy demand, population growth, urbanization, changing life styles, and climate change. Early warning systems can play a crucial role in averting situations like 2008 fuel and food prices. However, there are several bottlenecks to be overcome that include lack of infrastructure and capacity for implementing such EWS. In addition to EWS, this paper discusses some traditional off-the-shelf policies such as general improvement in resource use efficiency in agriculture, water and energy sector, increasing energy supply through renewable sources, and creating a East-Asian Energy Community or a grid that could ease the food-water-fuel nexus in the region to a greater extent. 

Some Excerpts from the Above Paper:

An Early Warning System (EWS) in the context of food-water-energy nexus can be defined as a collection of dependent and independent variables that lead to detection and assessment of impending problem based on feedback connections operating between demand and supply of food, water and energy. A EWS can be as simple as that of a collection of indicators that can provide an early warning to the policy makers and other development planners operating at various levels. It can also be as complex as that of employing dynamic simulation models that can quantitatively represent the real world based on the conditions defined/assumed within the model (the system). A recent example of EWSs for policy decisions can be the EU proposal for building an EWS for energy that simulates the supply and demand situation in the region (European Union, 2009), which includes early warning for long-term energy conditions as well as to handle short supply in oil in short-time scales.

An effective EWS can be built using dynamic simulation models since they can consider the element of time and related dynamics in determining the status of outcomes that could be useful to the policy makers. The use of simulation models in the public policy research is not new. Some examples include:

·         The General Algebraic Modeling System (GAMS) has provided good tool in understanding environment and economics into a single framework.
·         The Asia-Pacific Integrated Model (AIM) has provided a tool to simulate the impact of climate change on natural environment and socio-economics the Asia-Pacific region.
·         Computable general equilibrium (CGE) models have been used for understanding the economy-wide impacts of policies.
·         Multi-regional input-output (MRIO) models have been employed to understand and forecast material flows across different regions.
All the above simulation models are largely used for research purposes that have partially contributed to development of policies rather than for providing real-time early warning for policy purposes. Partially, this could be attributed to the limited understanding of natural, socio-economic and institutional systems.

2.1. Prerequisites for development of an EWS

Development of EWS is dependent on various factors related to the system in question and it has to do with how best the EWS can represent the real world.

Determinants of an effective EWS:
  •  How the system is defined (what components a system constitutes),
  • Understanding of relationships and feedback connections operating between different actors/components of the system,
  • The precision with which these dynamic and static forces are quantified and represented in the model, and
  •  Interpretation of the outcomes of the model as against what it actually mean with implications for the institutions that use the EWS for policy purposes.

2.2. What an EWS should be able to do?

The end result of developing the decision support system for early warning related to food-water-energy should be able to:

1.       visualize demand and supply situation of food, water and energy in the region on short- medium- and long-term basis,
2.       give projections on prices of food, water and energy on immediate and long-term basis so that countries can take preventive and proactive strategies,
3.       help policy makers at various levels to plan appropriate crops, water usage and water conservation practices and how energy is produced and consumed at the regional and national scales,
4.       help in appropriate allocation of resources for food and energy production while keeping in view several constraints such as environmental health, climate change, food prices, and sustainability of resources employed, and
5.       help develop a set of standard operational procedures to be invoked in the wake of a situation like 2008 energy and food crisis.

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