World must anticipate 3/11-level disasters: U.N. official


Massive earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear disasters must be anticipated globally as major risks in the future, a senior U.N. official in charge of disaster-mitigation policy has said.

“We have to learn how to imagine these things — because they are going to happen — because of the way society is built, because of the nature of our infrastructure,” said Margareta Wahlstroem, special representative of the U.N. secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

The March 11, 2011, disasters were a “generational” one, a type that changes the way we think about them in terms of who they affect and the economic and political impact, said Wahlstroem, chief of the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

To prepare for calamities, she called for “soft countermeasures,” a social and communication strategy, to boost public education. It is necessary to ensure that people have easy access to quality information and that they learn how to use it, she said.

However, much of the information remains confined to the realms of experts or government-to-government communications, she said.

“I don’t think it’s very easy yet for the population per se to get the information,” she added.

Despite the more than two years that have passed since the March 2011 disasters, residents of Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, find it hard to grasp the information they are given, how it will affect them and when they can start thinking about returning home, Wahlstroem noted.

There is lots of speculation about the impact of radiation, including low-level radiation, and people are still afraid of this, she said.

The lessons being gleaned from that disaster have prompted the UNISDR to focus more on risks from so-called technological disasters in a new international disaster loss-reduction plan to succeed its Hyogo Framework for Action, she said.

It is important to learn how to mitigate risks for critical infrastructure in areas that are prone to hazards, she said, citing not only nuclear plants but also such facilities as oil refineries, hydroelectric plants and chemical factories.

The 10-year Hyogo plan came out of a Kobe conference in January 2005.

The Kobe area was slammed by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995.