Learning from Japan’s disasters

Mikela Heine and Ann Chong Gum, who are attending a Japan-sponsored disaster management training program, with UNITAR director Mihiko Kumamoto. Photo: Kelly Lorennij.
Mikela Heine and Ann Chong Gum, who are attending a Japan-sponsored disaster management training program, with UNITAR director Mihiko Kumamoto. Photo: Kelly Lorennij.

KELLY LORENNIJ
Lessons Japan on natural disasters are easily accessible in museums and memorials. One such institution is the Great Hanashinawaji Earthquake Memorial fixed in Kobe where even schoolchildren visit for simplified simulations of tsunami and earthquake attacks.

The memorial museum is a form of community initiative. It displays bent instruments, handwritten notes and photographs left behind in the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake and tsunami surge. The Japanese are thankful for the blessing of the sea, and stoic when it turns upon them.

A survivor who is now in her 80s recounted her experience. The quake came at night during the cold season. Her prayers for help while stuck under a pile of rubble were answered, but living past that proved to be difficult as well.

“Water was most important,” she stressed. With no electricity they had to carry as much water as they could once a day, and they only used it for drinking and cooking. Many like her had only the dirty pajamas for clothing and no more.

Although hospital tests showed that she had small bleeding in her brain, she opted to check out and move in with a friend as she felt other people needed hospital services more than she did. Despite the strength it took for her to go that far, depression struck. Many of the “lucky ones” — those who survived — suffered from guilt as well.

While Kobe has numerous responders and aid relief providers, it still has a lot of lessons to learn. During the tragedy, the mayor did not make the distress call until two hours after the earth shook and waves struck. It took another two hours for help to come. In those hours lost, more lives could have been saved and that is perhaps one of Kobe’s greatest regrets and base of advice, of the lessons it wishes to share with the world.

Kobe has since learned from itself. Kobe also brings in survivors to share their stories, presenting a sense of ownership for the community and authenticity of the information and advice.

Read more about this in the November 9, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.