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March 17, 2015

Journalists from Abroad Share Stories of Recovery from Kobe Earthquake (Part 1 of 2)
16 from mainly Asia and Latin America were in Japan in advance of the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

“People forget with time they were even affected by a disaster. It is our mission to keep reporting lessons from disasters,” said Benjamín Blanco of the newspaper La Tercera (Chile), reaffirming his role as a journalist.

From Feb. 15 to 28, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) conducted an “Invitation Program of Media Representatives to Japan.” Journalists mainly from Asia and Latin America visited areas affected by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake and covered stories about lessons and challenges from Japan's disaster experiences.

'Disaster risk reduction and reconstruction' as a theme

photoJournalists from around the world listen to the story of Atsuko Sato, fifth from the left in the front row, in north Rokkomochi, Nada district, Kobe city.

The Invitation Program of Media Representatives to Japan has been organized once a year since 1995, for journalists from TV stations and newspapers in developing countries. A theme is set each year, such as “Africa,” “the environment,” “disaster risk reduction” or “Japanese technology.” It aims to promote better understanding about Japan and JICA’s projects by offering occasions to visit sites and cover stories.

This year it has been 20 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. From March 14 to 18, the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is being held in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, an area affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. “The Invitation Program of Media Representatives to Japan” was conducted with the theme of “disaster risk reduction and reconstruction,” just before the Conference when the eyes of the world are on Japan.

Sixteen journalists from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Myanmar, El Salvador, Colombia, Chili, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, Iran and Fiji participated in the program. Those countries all are prone to such natural disasters as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and flooding, so there is great interest in disaster risk reduction and disaster recovery in them.

Learning the importance of community in Kobe

photoParticipants experience a simulated rainstorm at the Life Safety Learning Center in Tokyo.
photoWaisea Vukimalua Nasokia of Fiji acts as a patient during an emergency drill.
photoKarim Madad of Pakistan experiences an earthquake simulation of seismic intensity (shindo) 6-plus in a simulation vehicle.

On Feb. 15, the invited journalists arrived in Japan and learned at JICA headquarters in Tokyo about Japan’s ODA, JICA's projects and its efforts related to disaster management. Then they visited the Life Safety Learning Center of the Tokyo Fire Department and experienced earthquake and rainstorm simulations.

On Feb. 18, they traveled to Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, and visited the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution* in the New City Center in Eastern Kobe (HAT Kobe), a symbol of the reconstruction of Kobe. Saburo Tanigawa was an employee of the city of Ashiya when the disaster occurred. He talked about the situation at that time and the municipal response.

“City employees were able to rescue approximately 20 percent of affected people. And another 80 percent were rescued by the people in their communities” he said, explaining the importance of relationships within a community when a disaster occurs.

“What kind of aid did the government provide for rebuilding destroyed houses?” asked Fabiano Maisonnave of the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in Brazil.

Tanigawa answered, “At that time, donations were the only aid we could rely on. After the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, a law called the Act Concerning Support for Reconstructing Livelihood of Disaster Victims was established, and it has been applied to other disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake.”

“Rather than wasting its experiences, Japan uses them to establish systems. We should learn from Japan,” Maisonnave said.

On Feb. 19, they visited Nada district and Nagata district, which suffered seriously from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. They heard about efforts on community reconstruction by the Kansai Association for Urban Design Planning. And they also visited a disaster-resistant town constructed primarily by residents.

Atsuko Sato, who worked as a leader of an effort to construct a park in the north of Rokkomichi, Nada district, said, “It was difficult to form an opinion, but we studied laws and systems related to land readjustment to be able to create a park. And after deepening understanding of the project, we came to an agreement. We made all kinds of efforts so that the park would serve as a core part of disaster risk reduction efforts.”

“Nicaragua hasn’t rebuilt even though 40 years have passed since its earthquake, but in Kobe there is no evidence of the disaster although only 20 years have passed since the disaster. I would like to report about Kobe’s efforts to my country,” said Rezaye Angélica Alvarez Martínez of the newspaper La Prensa in Nicaragua.

Then, the participants visited Maiko Senior High School and talked with students from a course of Environment and Disaster Mitigation. They also visited Ishioka Park located in Nishi district, Kobe, and learned about the importance of efforts on disaster risk reduction by local community (called BOKOMI) by experiencing an emergency drill.

Emergency drills are the best tool for improving residents' awareness of disaster risk reduction

photoSarini Shihara Maduwage, left, of the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, listens to an explanation at the Life Safety Learning Center of the Tokyo Fire Department.

“I would like to know how Japan recovered from the tsunami damage,” said Sarinii Shihara Maduwage on her arrival. She works at the Daily Mirror in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka suffered from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

In Sri Lanka, JICA has implemented a Study On Disaster Mitigation Programs (2006-2009) and a project called the Disaster Management Capacity Enhancement Project Adaptable to Climate Change (2010-2013), contributing to the establishment and reinforcement of a disaster risk reduction structure.

“I would like to know about Japan's excellent technology,” Maduwage said.

When she saw an earthquake simulation vehicle in which people can experience the shock of an earthquake, she also said with great interest, “If this kind of device existed in Sri Lanka, people would be able to experience the shock of the earthquake in their daily lives and it would improve their awareness of disaster risk reduction.”

On Feb. 22, participants left Kobe to head to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

* A building built to communicate about experiences and lessons to the next generations and contribute to reducing damage caused by disasters in Japan and the rest of the world.


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