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April 28, 2011

World Has Reached a New Watershed in the Aftermath of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster

PhotoCleanup work is well underway in northern Japan's earthquake-tsunami zone

In the wake of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the world has reached a major watershed in how it deals with future natural catastrophes, an international meeting on disasters agreed in Tokyo Thursday (April 28).

The overwhelming consensus of the one-day High Level Expert Panel on Water and Disaster (HLEP/UNSGAB) underlined that ‘lessons learned’ from the Japanese and other natural disasters should be quickly and rigorously applied, that disaster management and prevention were increasingly inter-related and could no longer be treated in isolation and that far greater cooperation at state, regional and international levels was needed.

The meeting, co-hosted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and attended by international experts and government delegates, called for a series of immediate actions:

PhotoDelegates from an international disaster conference visit one stricken town in the region

--A special or plenary U.N. session to discuss preparedness and mitigation actions in future crises, application of lessons learned and establishment of a regular UN mechanism to ensure ongoing dialogue and action.

--The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and World Bank should discuss measures to minimize the effects of mega disasters on global, regional and national economies and establish procedures for rapid recovery.

--Regional cooperation should be strengthened to respond effectively to disasters, including such practical steps as joint drills.

--Japan and the international community should disseminate information and lessons learned concerning the recent catastrophe and JICA in particular was encouraged to share ‘experience and knowledge with other countries’ and to reflect these lessons in future development projects.

JICA has been active for many years in assisting developing countries in a range of disaster related projects and Mikio Ishiwatari, senior advisor on Disaster Management and Water Resource Management told the conference the organization may need to review some of its operating principles “to put people (more) at the center of our activities.”

In the past 10 years alone JICA has implemented disaster prevention projects costing 41.57 billion yen in 132 countries and dispatched 1,697 experts. Grant aid programs totaling 33.3 billion yen were also implemented in 23 countries including procurement of weather radar, construction of emergency evacuation shelters and rehabilitation of basic infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and water supply facilities.

In the aftermath of the earthquake in northern Japan, JICA staff and volunteers worked in the immediate impact areas, the organization acted as a liaison with non governmental organizations and some foreign organizations and various centers were opened to accommodate homeless earthquake victims or were used by international agencies (see attachment).

PhotoThe structural damage is still enormous

In welcoming remarks, JICA President Mrs. Sadako Ogata highlighted the themes of inter-dependence, the need for closer international cooperation and the importance of ‘human security’ – recognizing the needs and importance of individuals and local communities.

The outpouring of international support and help “reminds (us) that the Japanese people are truly inter-dependent with people all over the world,” she said. Now, “It may be the turn for Japanese people to rely on and learn from your (the development world’s) experience.”

JICA was helping to analyze what disaster management measures “worked well and what did not, in order to share our ‘real lessons learned’ with the international community.”

Protection of people’s lives—or human security—“must be the center of our reconstruction efforts,” the JICA president said and “JICA will play a role in connecting Japan and the rest of the world to mutually share the experience and lessons learned.”

An American delegate reiterated those broad themes: “We are all in the boat together,” he said. “And we must learn together.”

The conference was told that 133 countries and 39 international organizations had pledged support to Japan, $1.25 billion had been received in donations and, in addition 107,000 Japanese self defense forces, 236 aircraft and 50 vessels had been deployed to meet the emergency.


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