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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Two lessons from the disaster

March 3, 2012


Editorial: Lessons learned 1 year after March 2011 disasters


Ryoichi Abe, 51, a fisherman from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was operating off the Ojika Peninsula when a massive tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake hit his neighborhood on March 11, 2011.

Two days after the tsunami, he returned to his home port and was shocked by the devastation wrought by the disaster. Sixteen of the 120 residents in his neighborhood died. Many of his fellow fishermen lost their fishing boats and equipment.

It was volunteers from urban areas who encouraged Abe and other fishermen who had lost enthusiasm about fishing to resume their business. The volunteers carefully unraveled ropes and nets that had become tangled in fishing devices, and recovered usable equipment. Abe and other fishermen joined the volunteers in their work. In the summer, the fishermen were able to resume oyster farming.

"We got to this point thanks to the volunteers. They have incredible power. I'll never forget what they did for us," Abe says.

He says he and his fellow fishermen will be able to ship the oysters in autumn this year if things go smoothly.

Close bonds between disaster survivors who are trying hard to move toward recovery and those who are lending a helping hand can be observed throughout disaster-ravaged areas.

We would like to take this opportunity as we approach the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami to think about what we have lost -- and learned -- from the disasters.

The losses are enormous: the lives of some 20,000 people, the assets and the peace of hundreds of thousands of people and numerous jobs. Residents of areas heavily affected by the ongoing crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant have also been deprived of the freedom to live in their hometowns.

Yet amid such hardships, Japanese people have shown to the world that they have a strong will to restore their livelihoods. Close bonds and solidarity between victims and those who have shown willingness to share their pain have shone through the disaster.

We would like to cite two things we have learned from the March 2011 quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis.

One of them is the importance of politics. The government's response to the disasters has demonstrated that politics has not functioned properly and has been in chaos since March 11, 2011.

Even though the government set up several task forces to handle disaster countermeasures, its system of political leadership -- having politicians being responsible for decisions on policy while bureaucrats put their expertise to work to implement these measures -- has failed to function as far as the government's response to the disasters is concerned.

The ruling and opposition parties have also failed to cooperate closely to solve problems with speed and focus. On the contrary, a conflict within the ruling bloc has contributed to confusion in the political situation, and delayed solutions to problems that require political-level decisions.

The 4 trillion yen initial supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 -- designed to finance disaster recovery efforts -- did not become law until May 2, 2011. Furthermore, the government's compilation of the principles for disaster recovery, which provide direction during the recovery period and cover the scale and length of recovery measures, the financial resources required and the designation of special restoration zones, did not come until July 29 -- 4 1/2 months after the disasters.

The government finally set up the Reconstruction Agency on Feb. 10 -- 11 months after the Great East Japan Earthquake. This is in stark contrast to the establishment of a similar body only four weeks after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and its environs.

Enhancing political ability to solve problems is important as a means to protect ourselves from future disasters and indispensable when the government tackles other outstanding issues.

Our second lesson is the inevitability of a fundamental review of Japan's energy policy -- including nuclear power. We were overconfident of the safety of nuclear power plants. The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has raised such questions as how to decrease Japan's reliance on nuclear power plants, how to secure substitute energy sources and how to solve problems involving radioactive waste. Even though these are extremely difficult questions, Japan can make an important contribution to global society by solving them and setting an example through reduced reliance on nuclear energy.

We would like to make good use of the lessons learned from the disasters in the future. To that end, we would like to make specific proposals in this series, "One year after March 11, 2011."

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