Toshiaki Kitazato

Toshiaki Kitazato - Photo: 2016

Building an Efficient Asian Network for Disaster Risk Reduction

Viewpoint by Toshiaki Kitazato*

TOKYO (IDN) – In the January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, Kobe City – with its population of 1.5 million – was hit hardest by strong tremors. Nearly 6,500 people lost their lives

Eighteen years later, Japan suffered a great disaster yet again, followed by the massive tsunami caused by the earthquake in deep sea crusts in the Pacific Ocean on March 11, 2013. The East Japan Great Earthquake Disaster not only caused more than 20,000 death casualties but also destroyed the nuclear power plant buildings in Fukushima.

In Indonesia, great tsunamis were generated by the Sumatra earthquake in 2004 that recorded more than 220,000 death casualties in total in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India etc. Four years later, more than 87,000 people were killed by a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province of China. SPANISH | GERMAN | HINDI | JAPANESE

Asia is obviously the region where crustal movements of the earth are rather active. It is also the area where earthquakes and volcano disasters or other natural disasters occur quite often.

Because the earth crusts move steadily or heavy rains will increase because of global warming, we have no mans to prevent any earthquakes and volcanic explosions or floods from occurring.

We can only reduce the damages caused by disasters in each country. In fact, it is important to keep disaster damages as small as possible by pursuing a ‘disaster risk reduction’ strategy.

The United Nations General Assembly designated the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The decade was intended to reduce, through concerted international action, especially in developing countries, loss of life, property damage and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters.

The Japanese Government co-hosted with the UN, the first World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Yokohama, Japan, in 1994, which endorsed “the Yokohama strategy”, which says: “Sustainable economic growth and sustainable development cannot be achieved in many countries without adequate measures to reduce disaster losses, and that there are close linkages between disaster losses and environmental degradation.”

The United Nations started an international strategy for disaster reduction (ISDR) in 2000, and held the second World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Kobe-City where Great Hanshin Earthquake occurred in 2005. The Hyogo Framework for Action (2005–2015): Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters was an outcome of the 2005 conference.

HFA was the first plan to explain, describe and detail the work required from all different sectors and actors to reduce disaster losses. It was developed and agreed on with the many partners needed to reduce disaster risk – governments, international agencies, disaster experts and many others – bringing them into a common system of coordination.

It set five specific priorities for action 2005 to 2015: making disaster risk reduction a priority; improving risk information and early warning; building a culture of safety and resilience; reducing the risks in key sectors; strengthening preparedness for response.

A large reduction of damages caused to human beings has been realized by establishing several shelters for those affected by cyclones in Bangladesh. There are many other similar examples in Asia and the world.

The third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was held in March 2015 Sendai City, which was hard hit by the Great East Japan earthquake in 2011. The Conference endorsed the ‘Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’. It is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action. It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in June 2015.

’’The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries,’’ says the Framework.

The Japanese Government announced the ‘Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction’, and agreed to contribute to the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction – in the four years from 2015 to 2018 – US$4 billion and train 40,000 government officials and local leaders to play a leading role in national efforts for disaster risk reduction and post-disaster “Build Back Better”.

The Japanese Government is ready to contribute for the benefit of the global community to mainstreaming disaster prevention and promote international disaster prevention cooperation between various countries and regional cooperation organizations in Asia together with international organizations including the United Nations.

I have worked as a deputy director general in-charge of the Cabinet Office for disaster prevention as well as vice commissioner of the Fire and Disaster Management Agency in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japanese Government.

I would like to propose an international joint training system to train officials and other experts in disaster prevention in the Asian region, under the leadership of Japan. The Tohoku Great (East Japan) Earthquake disaster in 2011, floods caused by heavy rains in Thailand in 2015, the devastation caused by a strong earthquake in Taiwan in February 2016 and and rescue efforts: these are examples underlining the need for regional cooperation for disaster risk reduction and prevention.

In order to be prepared for a disaster in any Asian country in the future, it is important that each country learns from and shares the high-level lifesaving techniques and knowledge accumulated in another country such as Japan. This involves training rescue personnel to give humanitarian support for any emergency in Asia.

In addition, an interchange of rescue personnel among different countries through an international joint training effort can help facilitate communication in emergency situations. It can also contribute to supporting international rescue efforts and expediting international rescue material supplies to any country suffering from catastrophes.

The current economic and financial situation of Asian countries is far from conducive to providing government funds for disaster risk prevention and rescue programme. Therefore, I hope that non-governmental organizations cooperating with the United Nations, which are playing a key role in Asia, including DEVNET JAPAN, will take on a leadership role and galvanize support from private enterprises in their countries and interest them in providing humanitarian support for the disaster risk prevention.

Together they could build a network which would cooperate with governmental and non-governmental organizations. This, in turn, would become a model of new international humanitarian assistance to help every country caught in an emergency, without depending heavily on official development assistance (ODA) through governments.

* Toshiaki Kitazato is a lawyer and a former deputy director-general in charge of the Cabinet Office for disaster prevention in Japan. He is also a former deputy commissioner of the Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) in Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 April 2016]

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

This article is part of IDN’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and DEVNET Japan.

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