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? 

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