Disaster supplies on shaky ground

In the three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, most of the country has yet to prepare itself for another disaster. A recent survey by Tohoku University’s International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDS) found that a large percentage of municipalities across Japan still have not taken steps to ensure enough food or fuel to operate for more than a day in the event of another serious earthquake.

When the electricity supply was cut off after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, most municipal offices in the Tohoku region were caught unprepared. Local government employees had to run around to service stations in a desperate attempt to find enough fuel to power their emergency electric generation systems.

Few had more than a day’s worth of food stockpiled. Prospects for the same thing happening again are high, according to the report, which stated that only 42 percent of municipalities nationwide maintained enough fuel to run emergency generators for three days. Without electricity, their ability to assist survivors and coordinate relief efforts will be highly impaired. Food stockpiles have also been ignored. The survey found that only 22 percent have enough food to feed staff for at least three days, while 46 percent have no stockpiles at all. Such lack of planning after the 2011 disaster is hard to believe.

Little progress has been made on reinforcing buildings, too. Even after the central government increased subsidies for renovations to boost quake resistance, only 38 percent of municipalities have subsidy programs.

Just close to 15 percent of local governments provide subsidies for renovation work, mainly because the sums can be extremely high, running to several hundred million yen per building.

Nor has there been much progress in other areas of prevention. Only the Yokohama municipal government began to subsidize purchases of seismic circuit breakers, which automatically cut off electricity during a strong quake and greatly reduce the danger of fires.

However, even in Yokohama, only three applications for subsidies were received.

Most municipalities seem to be in denial about the possibility of another earthquake. They should start to take responsibility for realistic preventive measures about food, fuel, buildings and fire. Local governments must take primary responsibility, but the central government needs to provide additional financial support and help make the subsidy programs more widely known.

Citizens — who themselves should be stockpiling food, water and other household emergency supplies as well — need to demand that their local governments do more to prepare for another earthquake.

The IRIDS report shows that not only has not enough been done since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami but also not enough was learned.