What Japan’s disaster-proofing strategies can teach the world
By Marika Katanuma
Over the past decade, the island nation has weathered about 20% of the world’s “strong” earthquakes (magnitude 6 or greater) as well as multiple tropical storms a year. The worst of these events can be utterly devastating: The 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which triggered a massive tsunami and a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, killed more than 15,000 people.
In December, the government adopted a new five-year, 15 trillion yen ($144.4 billion) plan to accelerate its anti-disaster preparations. Measures aimed at mitigating the risks of predicted massive earthquakes — as well as wind and flood damage — range from upgrading roads, schools and airports to a supercomputer for predicting rainfall. The plan, which includes 123 disaster reduction projects, was adopted after the government judged an existing three-year emergency project insufficient to protect lives and property.
For all Japan’s advances in anti-disaster planning, significant gaps remain. Flood risk management is still a work in progress, an issue highlighted by the record-breaking rains that killed 84 people last July. Evacuation is often especially difficult for frail, elderly people, a particular problem for the country’s aging population. And of course there’s Covid-19.
Japan’s risk management has further to go. But as natural disasters become more frequent, other countries may want to examine its approach. “We need to plan, during the design phase, a structure that can withstand disasters,” said Mayumi Sakamoto, a professor at the University of Hyogo Graduate School specializing in Disaster Risk Management. “By embedding disaster preparation facilities during the construction phase, the city will become even more resilient.”