Statement by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction on the 11 March Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

 
The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) expresses its profound regret at the loss of life and the immense damage inflicted upon the people of Japan on 11 March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami struck the north-eastern coast of the country. We take this opportunity to offer our deepest condolences to all who have lost family members and homes as well as those who still await information about missing relatives and friends.

While it may be hard to draw solace from the current state of affairs, perhaps we can take some measure of comfort in knowing that even more lives would have been lost, and damage been more widespread, had the Japanese Government not made disaster risk reduction a high priority over a long period of time. As early as 1896, the authorities laid down the roots for reducing disaster risk in Tohoku, following the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake and Tsunami. Over the years, awareness has evolved into stringent building codes and stronger buildings that sway and slide above the ground rather than crumble. Such precautions, based on lessons learned, have been translated into wider national disaster risk reduction plans, which totaled some US$25 billion in 2008.

Nevertheless, the intensity and scale of the 11 March earthquake of 9.0, and the ensuing tsunami, exceeded the planning parameters foreseen. The crisis that has arisen from the damage to the nuclear power plant gives new impetus to the critical need - plan broadly and inclusively for unique risk-scenarios. Clearly, overall risk mitigation and preparedness planning for critical and vulnerable core socio-economic infrastructure must be given higher priority.
This tsunami tragedy reminds us all that, beyond simulations and drills, it is also important that we as individuals, and in our capacity as professionals, are always conscious of risk as a constant in everyday life. How do we live with it? What do we need to know to better understand our risks? Knowing the answers to questions like these will support resilience.

The Japanese experience once again underscores the value of and the need for comprehensive multi-hazard approaches to risk reduction, particularly as landscape and climate patterns change over time.

UNISDR affirms its solidarity with the people of Japan and pays tribute to their enormous resilience and courage. We also support the Government's continued efforts to build resilient communities; to take inspiration from the bravery of the people facing this catastrophe and; to bring speedy respite to those who still suffer.

Margareta Wahlström
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction

(Photo credit: Flickr @kalleboo)
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