UN Conference on Natural Disasters
Dear Family and Friends,
There are many things I deeply admire about the Japanese. One of them is their long-term view of things. Coupled with that is their attitude that any goal can be achieved only by taking one small step at a time.
A perfect example of that, of course, is the recovery work here in Tohoku after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have – and still are – contributing their efforts to get this area back on its feet. No one expects results overnight. Rather, they are thinking in terms of several generations; that is, thirty or forty years, or even longer.
A significant part of the recovery process includes more than Japan. This is reflected in the United Nation’s International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held in Sendai in March 2015.
and his colleagues are taking careful measures to insure the event will be as inclusive as possible. Part of that is to make it be a community offering, not just a government responsibility. One aspect of that is to include students from local universities in the preparations and conference itself. So despite his heavy schedule as a government official, Hidetaka Yanatsu takes time to visit schools and to carefully explain his vision for the conference and students’ roles in it.
Miyagi University of Education (MUE) in Sendai is one place Hidetaka Yanatsu has targeted for assistance. After the March 11 tragedy, as an educational institution, MUE felt a tremendous responsibility to be of service, especially for children.
So the administration established a volunteer program. Even now, almost three years later, that group is still strong. Participants go to temporary housing complexes to give classes or hold special events. Now they are discussing ways of expanding their work to include help for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
MUE’s volunteers recently sponsored a week-long series of lectures aimed at discussing ongoing disaster issues. Hidetaka Yanatsu gave the opening speech. Of course, he talked about the UN conference next year. But his talk was much larger than that.
He also discussed many dimensions of emergency preparedness. He stressed that one of the most important ways to prepare is by networking and communication, not only in times of emergency, but also in daily life. Good communication builds up confidence and trust between people, so they can work better together in times of need. Of course, the Internet is invaluable for that. But Hidetaka Yanatsu went further. He explained how in the Tohoku area, which is basically rural, the strength of the community was one of the best sources of communication and of personal protection.
Hidetaka Yanatsu also added the dimension of role models. “We need leaders that we can look up to, of course,” he said. “Those should be not only government officials, but also ordinary people.” He suggested that this sense of leadership and unity among citizens should include individuals and local organizations, of course, and also universities, NPOs, and the army, to name a few.
He went on to say how a wide variety of media could also be very useful. And this should be done long before a catastrophe happened. He suggested art shows, classes in schools, and town meetings.
Students going to higher ground, as part of a tsunami drill
The point was to build up communication and trust so that when an emergency struck, people could immediately step into action. And in Japan the question is never “if”, but rather “when” there will be another major catastrophe.
Because of Japan’s ongoing natural disasters, relief measures have been in place for years. Relatively recently, the very damaging Hanshin Earthquake took place in Kobe in 2005. Kobe is located in the Hyogo area of Japan. So that major catastrophe lead to a ten-year relief program, called the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA). Since the HFA program was firmly in place on March 11, 2011, the government was able to immediately implement relief efforts in Tohoku.
In other words, planning far in advance and working step-by-step are extremely helpful measures, especially in times of emergency.
Hidetaka Yanatsu concluded his informative speech by saying that although the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami was far more devastating than anyone ever anticipated, and although it will take many, many years to reconstruct this area, we cannot stop making efforts. “We have to think long-term. We have to think even beyond Tohoku’s recovery. We have to ponder the long-term influence of the work being done now. And we must take small steps to achieve our goals. For example, we have to consider how the UN Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will help other nations. We even should even think about how the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will affect our future. We must think far ahead and plan accordingly.
“And it is crucial to look forward positively. That way we can create in our minds and in our daily lives the kind of future we want for our families, ourselves, our country, and the world.”