The devastating impact from powerful typhoons that hit Japan in September and October served as a fresh alarm to municipalities responsible for the welfare of local residents. Affected municipalities are working at full capacity to deal with the aftermath of the disasters, fix damaged infrastructure and provide various kinds of support to residents.

The disasters that hit mainly eastern Japan came after similarly violent typhoons caused devastating floods and landslides in western Japan during the summer of 2018. The government decided last December to set aside ¥7 trillion over a three-year period starting March this year to reinforce infrastructure, implement flood control measures, and prevent the partial sinking of airports among other measures.

The budget is of great help to municipalities that are required to implement disaster risk reduction strategies because of Japan’s high risk of natural disasters.

The Kyoto Prefectural Government’s crisis management section was expanded to a department this year. The government co-organized a symposium on practical measures to strengthen Kyoto’s natural-disaster resistant infrastructure in May.

“One of the key policies of Kyoto Prefecture is to achieve top-class disaster risk reduction. Upgrading to a department has sped up decision-making processes and given us the authority to make formal requests of other departments,” said Chiaki Nakamura, deputy director general of the Department of Crisis Management, Kyoto Prefecture.

Nakamura also emphasized that notifying residents of this upgrade to department status was a good opportunity to remind residents of disaster risk awareness. The residents are more aware than before of the prefecture’s priority for disaster risk reduction.

The department has, since April, been studying prefectural responses to natural disasters that occurred in 2018 and has also held an annual meeting on disaster risk reduction, she said.

The Multi-hazard Information Providing System, an online disaster map, is one of many proactive measures implemented by the prefecture to mitigate disaster risks. (multi-hazard-map.pref.kyoto.jp/top/top.asp)

The system, which began operating in April 2016, enables residents to view information on multiple disasters simultaneously on a single map. For example, the system can create a map showing areas in danger of flooding, the projected height of tsunami following an earthquake, and evacuation centers for quakes and floods — all on a single map for each city, ward and town.

“Residents can print out a map and use it during disaster drills,” Nakamura said, adding that the prefecture is training people whose work is related to disaster prevention to learn how to best utilize the system.

“We want residents to know their local risks and how to best evacuate using the Multi-hazard Information Providing System,” she said.

Even though the prefecture is implementing such measures, residents’ awareness of local disaster risks remains wanting. During the heavy rain in July last year, only about 4,200 out of 620,000 residents recommended to evacuate actually did, Nakamura said.

To deal with the situation, the prefecture is training firefighters and others to encourage their neighbors to evacuate when they are supposed to so that actual evacuation numbers increase, she said.

The prefecture also has evacuation plans in place should a nuclear emergency occur because multiple nuclear power plants are in neighboring Fukui Prefecture. Kyoto has more residents living within a 5-km radius of the nuclear plant-concentrated area than Fukui and Shiga prefectures, she added.

As in the case of the torrential downpour in western Japan last summer, natural disasters provide valuable lessons on how to prepare for future disasters. Prefectures affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 are currently looking into that incident to deal with the aftermath of the recent typhoons in September and October.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake is another past disaster from which the world can learn how to cope in the aftermath of such an event. Hyogo Prefecture will next year mark the 25th year of the magnitude 7.3 quake, which killed 6,434 people and destroyed much infrastructure.

Damage from the quake in January 1995 was so severe that the prefecture has examined the scale of the incident and its response in preparation for future similar disasters. For example, it has published a booklet aimed at residents to raise awareness of disaster risks and how to reduce them.

Hyogo Prefecture has become an international hub of disaster risk reduction. Some institutions located in the Kobe New Eastern City Center formed the Disaster Reduction Alliance to strengthen collaboration, conduct international training and hold international symposiums. Alliance members include the World Health Organization Centre for Health Development, commonly known as WHO Kobe Centre; Japan International Cooperation Agency Kansai Center; Asia Disaster Risk Reduction Center; United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and other organizations.

Having recovered from the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Hyogo Prefecture was one of the first prefectures to gain real-time experience in providing damage control from natural disasters. It dispatched officials to the Tohoku area after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, as well as other areas hit by other disasters.

Regional prefectures have formed the Union of Kansai Government with Hyogo Prefecture in charge of disaster risk reduction and taking a leading role. It comes up with and executes plans, and makes arrangements for providing and receiving support in times of emergency among other activities.

The prefecture also collaborates with the Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center, a public institute under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The prefecture and the center have conducted joint experiments to inspect the quake-resistance of roads using the center’s facility, E-Defense. This enables researchers to observe how structures are being destroyed in measuring their fragility to quakes.

In a measure to support disaster victims, the prefecture in September 2005 began offering insurance-like financial support for those whose houses were damaged by natural disasters. Residents pay ¥5,000 a year to receive up to ¥6 million to repair or rebuild their houses.

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