U.N. assembly chief hails significance of tsunami resolution

Kyodo

The president of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday underscored the significance of a newly adopted resolution, led by Japan and Chile, to heighten awareness about tsunami.

The resolution acknowledging tsunami as “a common challenge for many countries” and designating Nov. 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day received unanimous approval at a plenary meeting of the assembly Tuesday, following endorsement by the assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee on Dec. 4.

Mogens Lykketoft, the assembly’s president, sees the relevance of the resolution to the landmark Paris agreement on climate change that recognizes the importance of addressing the adverse effects of global warming, noting the need to implement what was decided in France on Dec. 12 “as quickly as possible.”

“But I think every effort you can do to increase the awareness of this kind of natural catastrophe is to avoid the potential big consequences (and) is very important,” the former Danish foreign minister said in an interview.

“This is but one single step,” he said of the resolution. “I commend the initiative of Japan.”

The resolution recognizes “the significance of preparedness and the prompt dissemination of information through early warning systems” and other steps, referred to in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted as an international guideline of action at a U.N. conference in Sendai, Japan, in March.

While the United Nations already designates Oct. 13 as International Day for Disaster Reduction, to highlight tsunami, Nov. 5 was selected to coincide with the annual anniversary of the 1854 Inamura-no-hi or “Fire of Inamura” event. On Nov. 5 of that year a Japanese villager through his quick action saved countless lives when he set fire to sheaves of rice, thus warning people of the imminent danger of a tsunami.

Lykketoft expressed hope that tsunami survivors can come to the international body one day to help raise awareness, just as atomic bomb survivors from Japan have added value to global discussions on disarmament at the United Nations by recounting their experiences.

“I think that has been a very strong lesson coming from exactly those persons who survived,” he said. “You could use the witnesses from natural disasters in the same way (as atomic bomb survivors) if they are willing to do it, to raise the awareness.”

The General Assembly’s adoption comes just ahead of the fifth anniversary on March 11 of the magnitude-9 offshore earthquake that triggered massive sea waves that engulfed northeastern coastal regions of Japan. The disaster left more than 18,000 people either dead or missing.

“The tragic impact of disasters would be greatly reduced and many lives and livelihoods would be saved if there was greater public awareness of the threats posed by both man-made and natural hazards, such as tsunamis,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said through his office in an email welcoming the move.

At a regular news conference Tuesday, Japanese Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa expressed Japan’s willingness to play a leading role in disaster reduction, saying, “We hope to lead to efforts that will minimize human loss and material damage.”

The document was drawn up by Japan, which worked with Chile, another disaster-prone country.

Besides Japan’s March 11, 2011 disaster, it lists major tsunami in the past decades that claimed many lives and caused tremendous damage including others such as in Chile in 1960, the Philippines in 1976, Turkey in 1999 and the Indian Ocean coastal countries in 2004, among others.

Lykketoft cited the need for raising awareness among people even in those nations like his home country of Denmark, who are not exposed to immediate danger from tsunami.

The 2004 calamity in Southeast Asian countries, for instance, brought home the consequences to many Danes who were vacationing in countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, he said.