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Japan understands threat of natural disasters

by

Staff Writer

An international conference on disaster prevention kicks off March 14 in the disaster-hit Tohoku region and it is aiming to adopt a new global framework to mitigate effects from natural disasters for the coming decade or so.

The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction through March 18 is expected to draw about 40,000 people from Japan and abroad, including top government officials, heads of international bodies and nongovernmental organizations, to Sendai and other locations in the region, which is recovering from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

The main objective of the conference at the Sendai International Center is to draw up a new guideline for disaster risk reduction to replace the 10-year Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) adopted at the previous 2005 Kobe conference, Margareta Wahlstrom, special representative of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, told reporters in January at the Japan National Press Club.

“The purpose of the conference … is to update, on the basis of 10 years of experiences, (the) design of framework that will help guide countries’ work to reduce disaster risk for the coming decade,” she said.

The HFA, the implementation of which will be reviewed at the conference, provided guidelines for the international community to work toward mitigating the effects of disasters and strengthening resilience to natural hazards.

“(The post-Hyogo framework) builds on what we have experienced over the past 10 years, so it will include lessons learned from disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake (in 2011 and) all the major catastrophes we’ve seen, but also the increasing understanding of the relationship between poverty and vulnerability to disasters and how it impacts countries,” Wahlstrom noted.

The disaster risk reduction conference will be the third for which Japan will serve a host, following the inaugural edition in Yokohama in 1994 and the Hyogo conference in 2005.

Some officials said Japan deserves to host such conferences, noting the country has long called for the importance of disaster preparedness and has put a lot of effort into responses to natural disasters.

“Japan has traditionally engaged in serious efforts for disaster prevention, but we also have experienced large-scale disasters, including the 2011 earthquake in Tohoku,” Kenichi Suganuma, ambassador in charge of the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, told The Japan Times.

Thus, the conference held in Japan will give opportunities “to share those experiences, Japan’s past response to (disasters) and how the country will proceed with disaster risk reduction based on such experiences” with international participants, he said.

Moreover, the fact that the conference and related events will be held in Sendai and other municipalities in Tohoku adds significance, in light of the massive disaster four years ago.

“Having the conference in Sendai now is to give recognition to the tragedy of the Tohoku area being hit by the earthquake and tsunami, but also to give the population and opportunity to present their achievements in reconstruction and recovery,” Wahlstrom stressed.

At the upcoming conference, the Japanese government plans to stress several critical points in addressing disaster prevention, Suganuma said.

“Firstly, we need to work on improving infrastructure and disaster risk resistance of urban development based on a long-term perspective,” he stressed. “In addition, not only the national government, but also various players such as local municipalities, communities, private sectors and nongovernmental organizations should cooperate for disaster prevention.”

Suganuma also said the government would promote the idea of “building back better,” which features reconstruction efforts aiming to rebuild areas that are more resistant to natural hazards than before the disasters struck.

Japanese Minister of State for Disaster Management Eriko Yamatani will preside over the five-day conference organized in three segments, which are “Intergovernmental,” “Multi-Stakeholder” sessions and “Public Forum.”

The intergovernmental segment features five ministerial round tables, at which participating ministers and high-level representatives will discuss such topics as “International Cooperation in Support of a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction,” “Reconstructing After Disasters: Build Back Better” and “Public Investment Strategies for Disaster Risk Reduction.”

The segment also has interactive discussion sessions called “High-Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogues,” which cover topics including “Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction.”

Meanwhile, the multi-stakeholder segment has 33 working sessions with participants from the government, nongovernmental organizations and public sectors, featuring four main themes: “Progress on existing HFA priorities,” “Emerging Risks,” “Commitments to Implementation,” and “Accelerating Implementation.”

Wahlstrom stressed the presence of high-level government officials is necessary to “ensure that it gets the highest political level endorsement … and implementation of the outcome of the conference.”

Ambassador Suganuma said high-level political involvement is essential to show that disaster prevention is a very important factor when crafting development assistance programs.

“There are cases that growth in developing countries facilitated by aid from donor nations or organizations was devastated overnight due to natural disasters,” Suganuma said, pointing out international communities need to come up with development plans incorporating disaster risk reduction.

“We’d like to promote ‘mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction’ in the area of international cooperation,” Suganuma said.

There will also be 25 study tours for conference participants, taking them to affected areas and sites in Sendai as well as Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures, which include the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the Iwate city of Rikuzentakata, which was hard-hit by the tsunami.

“(They) will be very important for the conference participants to see the state of reconstruction, but also to meet community members,” Wahlstrom said. “This brings the real issues around disasters very much to the fore for the conference participants.”

The tours will provide valuable opportunities for international participants to observe firsthand the actual damage and the ongoing reconstruction efforts following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, added Suganuma.

Another important component of the conference is the public forum, which features over 350 symposiums and seminars as well as more than 200 exhibitions and 100 poster sessions organized by various entities, including Japanese ministries, local governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Open to the general public, these events will be held at sites not only in Sendai, but also in Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

“The public forum is particularly important because it allows … the Japanese public to meet among themselves and their communities, but also to meet with all the participants in the international conference,” Wahlstrom stressed. “These are opportunities for learning and creating new partnerships to bring together many different communities’ experiences and learning.”

The Japanese government is taking all possible anti-terrorism and anti-disaster measures in cooperation with relevant authorities to assure the safety of participants and visitors and the success of the conference, Suganuma said.


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  • Liars N. Fools

    The Hyogo Framework was an important one and reflected the lessons — good and bad — in an atmosphere of transparency and helpfulness. Based on that Japan should indeed play a lead role in such matters as dealing with physical reconstruction, treatment of social and psychological trauma, rebuilding communities, devising plans for prevention and mitigation.

    In the aftermath of the Japanese authorities’ fumbling and inept response to the triple disasters — and Fukushima continues to this day to present serious problems — I am not sure that we can look with all that much confidence on Japan to build on the Hyogo Framework.