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June 10, 2014

Working to Reduce the Damage from Repeated Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Peru

"At the moment of the earthquake I could not stand up so I sat down on the ground. The images I saw on television were unbelievable, but they were what was actually happening." Strangely enough, Professor Carlos Zavala of Peru's National University of Engineering experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake while in Japan to participate in a workshop.

Accurately forecasting earthquake and tsunami risk to reduce damage

photoEarthquake resistance experiments through CISMID (analyzing cracks and damage resulting from periodically putting stress on sample walls)

The South American country of Peru is in the Ring of Fire, just like Japan, and so it is at risk of damage from earthquakes and tsunamis, and it is a disaster-prone country in general where floods, landslides and droughts that accompany El Nino and La Nina occur repeatedly. In 2001 and 2007, subduction-zone earthquakes (1) of magnitude 8 or higher took place, causing great damage. Because subduction-zone earthquakes take place periodically, it is said to be a certainty that in the future similar earthquakes and tsunamis will take place in Peru.

JICA has been carrying out measures to deal with disasters for more than 40 years in Peru. JICA has been engaged in cooperation and exchange for nearly 30 years regarding earthquakes and tsunamis, since assisting with the establishment of the Peruvian-Japanese Center for Earthquake Research and Disaster Mitigation (CISMID). In March 2010, the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) (2) program, which JICA carries out in partnership with the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), started the Project for Enhancement of Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Mitigation Technology in Peru. To accurately predict earthquake and tsunami risk and mitigate damage, many participating agencies in Peru and Japan have been divided into five groups and are carrying out joint investigations and research, with CISMID as the primary research agency in Peru, and Chiba University in Japan.

One of the five, a group in charge of tsunami prediction and damage reduction, carried out a tsunami simulation based on past tsunami damage and created a hazard map. For the seminar "Simulation of Earthquake Mechanisms, Tsunami Propagation and Run-up" held for government personnel, researchers and average citizens, more than 100 participants gathered.

Experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake a year after the project began

photoA building in Sendai city whose first floor section was left exposed after being hit by the tsunami (March 2013, photo by Professor Zavala)
photoProfessor Zavala visited a school in Sendai city that was damaged by the tsunami.

On March 11, 2011, just one year after the project began, Professor Zavala (then head of CISMID) was participating in “the Second Japan-Peru Earthquake and Tsunami Technology Improvement International Workshop” being held at Chiba University. After observing at the Port and Airport Research Institution's Tsunami Laboratory in Yokosuka city, Kanagawa prefecture, he experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake in Kamakura city in the same prefecture. He said that he was surprised by the major disaster, but he was also surprised by the way Japanese people remained calm and orderly in spite of such a major disaster.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, which took place during the joint research, gave the Peruvians involved in the project quite a shock. Thinking seriously about what would happen if a disaster on the same scale hit Peru, their consciousness of the importance of the project and sense of mission were renewed.

Engineer Francisco Ríos of CISMID said, "In Japan, before the big earthquake, earthquake simulators had been developed to help build better performing buildings. These simulators had a maximum magnitude of 8, but the earthquake that occurred this time had a magnitude of 9. In the future, Peruvian specialists should conduct simulations more carefully, including by increasing magnitude setting."

And in March 2012, one year later, Professor Zavala returned to Japan to participate in "The Third Japan-Peru Workshop: Enhancement of Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Mitigation Technology in Peru" and visited Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture, a disaster affected area.

"I was quite shocked to see schools and hospitals flooded up to the third floor and a boat washed ashore. The tsunami was predicted to reach a height of 10 meters, but it actually was 15 meters. This fact taught me that better technology is still needed. Peruvian technology is still behind that of Japan, but we have been able to learn much from the SATREPS project. There are also some technologies that did not exist in Japan that Peru was able to teach the Japanese. This kind of technology exchange is extremely beneficial to Peru," he said.

2,000 people participate in training after getting the signal of a 10 a.m. siren

photoKindergarteners participate in an evacuation drill.

On Aug. 14, 2013, in the La Punta district of Callao city, next to the Peruvian capital of Lima, more than 2,000 members of agencies participating in the project and general residents participated in a tsunami evacuation drill. This event got major coverage from local media, including television.

La Punta District Mayor Pío Salazar said, "Evacuation in a vertical direction (3) is estimated to take 15 to 20 minutes when a tsunami occurs, but it only took 12 minutes for us. In this sense, the drill was a success.

"There is no proper evacuation road at present, so we can only evacuate in a vertical direction, but in the next 18 months we will complete a road that allows evacuation from town areas to high ground in five minutes by car, and that will be a new evacuation method," he added.

One participating resident said, "The evacuation drill was wonderful. I learned how I should behave if something were to happen. We lose sight of it in our daily lives, but we residents of La Punta are aware that there is a possibility that someday a disaster will happen where we live."

"We have created a tsunami risk map in cooperation with CISMID and others as part of the SATREPS project. The results of our investigation show that in the event of a magnitude 8 or 9 earthquake, a tsunami 8 meters high would reach the La Punta District within 20 minutes. It is important to share these investigation results with everyone that can be incorporated into the evacuation plan," Expert Shunichi Koshimura from the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University said.

photo1. A poster created to notify residents of the drill 2. The poster in the district. 3. A building with a banner hung reading, "Take refuge here." 4. Twenty buildings were designated high ground evacuation place in the La Punta District.

Contributing to accurate tsunami forecasting

On April 1, 2014, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake occurred in neighboring Chile. The tsunami created by that earthquake reached Japan and tsunami warnings were issued for places including the coast between Hokkaido and the Kanto region, the Izu islands and the Ogasawara islands.

The SATREPS project tsunami team performed a tsunami analysis (3) immediately after the earthquake and forecast the height and arrival time of the tsunami. They predicted that a 15 centimeter tsunami would reach El Callao seaport, and one under 20 centimeters actually reached it. This is just one example of how the tsunami analysis almost perfectly matched the actual tsunami with regard to such factors as height and arrival time. The project's contribution to tsunami forecasting was verified.

photoSATREPS project stakeholders from Japan and Peru who participated in the evacuation drill

On March 31, the day before the earthquake occurred, a Japanese ODA loan agreement was signed between JICA and the government of Peru for the Post Disaster Stand-by Loan by the Government of Japan. The purpose of this loan was to prepare in advance funding that would be necessary in the event of a disaster and permit a rapid disaster response. It was the first such loan granted in Latin America, following one in the Philippines.

In 2014, the final year of the SATREPS project, groups for improving the earthquake resistance of buildings and regional disaster planning are active, and in the future a seminar to disseminate the fruits of the project throughout Peru is planned.

Some researchers point out that earthquakes are becoming more common from Peru to Chile. To reduce the damage from earthquakes and tsunamis and build the capacity for predicting tsunamis and transmitting information, JICA will install additional tidegauges in eight locations and create an emergency warning broadcast system at eight disaster prevention shelter bases through the grant aid agreement for the Project for Improvement of Equipment for Disaster Risk Management signed on Feb. 25. JICA will continue to comprehensively support Peru's disaster countermeasures through such initiatives as the SATREPS project, grant aid and Japanese ODA loans.


1: The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and earthquakes off the coast of Sumatra are among those classified as subduction zone earthquakes. The Great East Japan Earthquake was also a typical subduction-zone earthquake.

2: A program to use Japanese technology to conduct joint research with partner agencies in developing countries to solve global-scale problems such as those of the environment, disasters and food.

3: Taking refuge in a perpendicular direction to a tall building or the like when evacuation points on land are too far.

4: The tsunami analysis is done by Bruno Adriano, Assistant Professor Erick Mas and Expert Shunichi Koshimura.


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