By Yuki Matsuoka
KOBE, 22 September:
Six months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Margareta Wahlström, the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Chief, has met with Mayor Jin Sato of Minami-Sanriku town which lost 558 people in the tragedy. The total population of the town was 17,300 before the disaster and 343 are still unaccounted for.
Mayor Sato’s survival and resilience has been an inspiration for the surviving residents. He has been at the helm of the recovery and reconstruction process using the experience to reduce the town’s risk to future disasters of this scale.
“We survived this disaster. This fact makes us feel a stronger mission for the sake of our friends and neighbours who lost their lives and to work hard for reconstructing this town and making it more resilient to disasters. The town mayor has been working hard with his strong passion and leadership for the town, which indeed keep us going forward together with him,” said an official of the municipality during Wahlström’s visit.
With support from the national and prefectural governments, the town is currently planning the details of its reconstruction which includes an option of moving residential areas up to higher grounds.
“I am deeply moved by this tragedy and express my condolences to the town of Minami-Sanriku. I hope Mr. Sato will be able to share the town’s recovery and rebuilding experiences with UNISDR as it will be useful for other disaster prone municipalities and local governments around the world. It will help inform our ongoing World Disaster Risk Reduction Campaign which is focused on making cities resilient,” said Wahlström who plans to visit the town again to observe its progress in building back better.
Before March 2011, the town and residents of Minami-Sanriku were aware of their tsunami risk, having experienced several in their history, and took preventative measures. Learning from the previous large-scale tsunami in 1960, the town built sea-walls that were over five-metres high to protect the town from tsunamis. Other measures included conducting regular drills in schools and an early warning system.
The sea-walls could not cope with the power of the massive waves that hit on March 11th. However, thousands were saved through education and training of children and adults to understand their risks and take action when warnings were broadcasted.