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July 4, 2018

‘Viva Latin America! Deepening Ties With Japan’ Vol.4: A Japanese-Style Early Warning System Protects Peruvians

photoA village in the Andes mountains at an elevation of 3,285 meters. It has only brick one-story houses and a small radio tower.

A JICA expert visited the Andes in Peru. He was there to conduct a survey for introducing a system to convey earthquake information to villages that dot the mountain range at an elevation of around 3,000 meters.

In the past, a mountain glacier crumbled in a major earthquake in this zone and 20,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing landslide. In Latin America, which like Japan is subject to earthquakes and tsunamis, JICA focuses on cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction. Countries Japan has shared its expertise with are beginning to spread it to neighboring countries. In this final installment of our series "Viva Latin America! Deepening Ties With Japan," we introduce JICA's initiatives to help countries cope with natural disasters as a partner.

Installing an Emergency Warning Broadcast System in coastal Peru, in the first introduction outside Japan

photoEmergency information captions broadcast during the evacuation drill

It's about 10 a.m. on May 31. A siren sounds and a message is broadcast in Callao, a city in the suburbs of Lima along the Pacific coast.

"An earthquake has struck off the coast of Callao. A tsunami warning is in effect. Evacuate immediately."

Many people leave their office buildings and head for nearby parks. Students in schools near the coast run for higher ground. Each of them is able to evacuate smoothly as instructed by the broadcast. This took place on Peru’s National Day of Disaster Preparedness. An evacuation drill was held with an 8.5 magnitude earthquake scenario, and 10 million people participated, which amounts to about 1 in 3 of the people living in Lima and Callao.

photoSiren equipment for quick disaster notification

The evacuation instruction was sent out with an Emergency Warning Broadcast System (EWBS) that uses Japanese-style terrestrial digital broadcasting technology. The system can quickly and reliably send out disaster information, and Peru was the first country where it was deployed outside Japan.

JICA supported both the technical development of the system and the placement of receivers in seven locations, including parts of the coast at risk from tsunamis. The National Institute of Civil Defense (INDECI), which works with JICA, is considering a plan to use the system to activate sirens in 77 cities, some on the coast and in the mountains. It is also examining methods of communicating disaster information to citizens from radio stations and public facilities.

Inspired by a news video during the Great East Japan Earthquake

"Lives can be saved if you know in advance that a tsunami is coming."

So says Yasuji Sakaguchi, who worked to introduce this system as a JICA expert. Mr. Sakaguchi works for the Japan Telecommunications Engineering and Consulting Service.

"Will you go to Peru?"

photoMr. Sakaguchi, left, measures electromagnetic signals with his co-workers.

In 2009, when he was involved in introducing terrestrial digital broadcasting as a Japanese public broadcaster NHK broadcast engineer, Mr. Sakaguchi was informed of his impending transfer to an unfamiliar country.

The objective of the project was for Peru's Ministry of Transport and Communications to advance the conversion to digital broadcasts, and at the time there was no EWBS planned. The turning point was the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred in March 2011 and caused a tsunami that claimed many lives.

In Peru, where there are about 100,000 Japanese emigrants and descendants of Japanese emigrants, news images of towns along the northeast coast of Japan being swallowed up by a tsunami were broadcast for days. Watching these, Mr. Sakaguchi's Peruvian colleagues noticed captions from Japan's Emergency Warning System scrolling across the screen with warnings and disaster information.

If Peru had this, people living along the coasts and in the mountains could feel secure, they thought. Planning to adopt such a system began immediately.

Mr. Sakaguchi: 'Areas without infrastructure especially need to be warned'

photoA 4-meter rock that came crashing down in the Ancash earthquake is still in place.

To survey places where the warning system would be set up, Mr. Sakaguchi traveled 3,000 kilometers across Peru, north to south.

While surveying the Andes, he visited the area affected by the Ancash earthquake that occurred on May 31, 1970. The major disaster caused enormous damage when an avalanche of glacial ice from the mountain overran towns. The day it occurred became Peru’s National Day of Disaster Preparedness.

"There were some towns that never recovered. It's still scary when an earthquake takes place," one elderly survivor who cooperated with the survey said with a worried look on her face.

When she heard about the EWBS, however, she smiled and said, "A system like that would be great."

This was the motivation behind Mr. Sakaguchi's subsequent work, he says.

"I keenly felt that a warning system was needed there precisely because it was a place with no infrastructure and a developing country, and that motivated me," Mr. Sakaguchi said.

His term of work with JICA ended in September 2012, and his successor, another JICA expert, took over the project to disseminate the EWBS, but Mr. Sakaguchi continues to work in Peru, helping with installation of the system in radio stations and technical development.

In Latin America, expectations for the EWBS are growing. Ecuador and Chile are considering adopting it, and Peru is considering holding training and seminars for other countries as part of South-South cooperation, in which one developing country assists another developing country.

Making Chile a base for human resource development and aiming for a disaster-resilient South America

photoA lecture at the University of Chile

In Latin America, JICA is focusing on human resource development for disaster risk reduction.

In collaboration with Chilean universities and government agencies, Chile and Japan are carrying out the Disaster Risk Reduction Training Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (the KIZUNA Project), which aims to train experts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the University of Chile, the project is passing on methods for analyzing seismic observation data and detecting epicenters, based on Japanese expertise and experiences.

In addition to signing with the government of Peru an agreement for the ODA loan “Stand-by Emergency Credit for Urgent Recovery (SECURE)” to provide timely financing needed for restoration work, in Ecuador JICA is putting effort into disaster recovery preparations, an area that has been emphasized in recent years, creating a tsunami evacuation plan and helping re-evaluate the construction system there.

Japan Disaster Relief mentioned in a Mexican textbook

Japan Disaster Relief, which sent its Search and Rescue Team to Mexico after the earthquake there last September, was featured in a textbook for the country's public junior high schools. In a section on international cooperation, JDR's work was mentioned as part of an example of various countries, agencies and citizens' groups working together to respond to a disaster. On the other hand, during the Great East Japan Earthquake, Mexico sent a rescue team and relief supplies to Japan several times.

The people involved in each project in Latin America work together with a common cause, and their efforts are deepening the ties between geographically remote Japan and Latin America.

photoThe page in the Mexican junior high school textbook that mentions Japan Disaster Relief

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