National

Disaster experts warn of need for 'risk-informed' development policies

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

There are many factors involved in rebuilding from a natural disaster. But with the increase in urbanization worldwide, policies that include risk reduction measures with the need to throw up new buildings and repair infrastructure quickly are becoming ever-more crucial to recovery efforts.

That was one of several messages delivered by politicians, policymakers and disaster response experts from Japan and elsewhere at the International Recovery Platform conference in Kobe on Friday, the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

“What’s needed is risk-informed development. It’s not just about rebuilding after a disaster. It’s about risk-informed rebuilding,” said Jo Scheuer, director of public policy and support bureau at the United Nations Development Program and chair of the International Recovery Platform Steering Committee.

Disaster risk reduction means taking steps beforehand to reduce potential damage from a natural disaster and, more importantly, rebuilding a community’s physical and social infrastructure under policies that might be summed up as “safety first.”

Ryosei Akazawa, Japan’s state minister in charge of disaster management, said incorporating these policies is ever-more crucial at the U.N. level, at a time when population centers are becoming ever-more crowded.

“Growing urbanization means a need for disaster-risk-reduction planning. Disaster risk reduction has not been clearly positioned in the 2015 U.N. Millennium Development Goals,” Akazawa said. “For the next set of goals, we need to mainstream DRR in all countries.”

For Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe, which have worked hard to share the lessons learned in the wake of the Jan. 17, 1995, quake internationally, disaster risk reduction planning meant fundamental changes in civil engineering plans as well as making sure a community’s social and psychological needs were addressed.

“We made sure roads were widened, wells were built at evacuation centers, and that there were community plazas in the new housing areas where people could meet up,” Hyogo Pref. Gov. Toshizo Ido said. “We also provided work opportunities to make victims feel they had something to live for.”

Hyogo’s plans also included strengthening measures in local volunteer rescue services, which was especially important as about 80 percent of the 30,000 people who were buried in debris after the quake were rescued by their neighbors.