Kobe 'shall never be forgotten'

The song ‘Bring Happiness to the World’ has become a rallying call for the city of Kobe. Here children of Nishinada Elementary School perform it at JICA symposium on 18 Jan together with Mr. Usui who made this song two weeks after the earthquake. (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Andy McElroy and Yuki Matsuoka

KOBE, 19 January 2015 – A firm resolve to build a more resilient future in honour of those who lost their lives in the Kobe earthquake 20 years ago was evident amid the sombre services of remembrance over the weekend.

Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress led the tributes at a special memorial service at Hyogo House to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake attended by relatives of those killed as well as several dignitaries.

Nearby at Kobe’s park of remembrance a public commemoration drew an estimated 14,000 people. On a chilly morning, candles were lit and a moment of silence was observed at 5.46am, the time the earthquake struck 20 years ago.

At the official memorial, the Governor of Hyogo Prefecture Mr. Toshizo Ido spoke of the responsibility to meet the increasing challenge of keeping the memory fresh.

“Now is the time for us to convey our experiences and lessons to future generations and create a resilient society that minimises the effects of disasters. This is the duty of Hyogo Prefecture and a way to ensure that the victims did not die in vain,” Governor Ido said.

“On the other hand, memories of the earthquake are disappearing due to the passage of time and this has been a grave concern. We also have challenges such as support for the elderly to be self-reliant, and the revitalization of communities. (However) ‘January 17 shall never be forgotten’. We inscribe this phrase in our minds anew.”

Governor Ido estimated that almost 50 per cent of the population were either born or moved to Hyogo Prefecture after the earthquake and thus have no direct experience of knowledge of the disaster, which killed 6,434 people and caused more than USD100 million worth of damage.

One of the most moving parts of the official ceremony was a children’s choir singing ‘Bring Happiness to the World’, a song written to remember those who lost their lives. It includes the following lines:

We’re thankful to be here today
And remember the precious lives as we pray
We have rebuilt Kobe to be
As beautiful as in our memory


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström, who attended the official memorial service, described the challenge of building resilience long after a disaster as one of memory over forgetfulness.

“Every time I come here I get a renewed sense of Japan and its people saying to themselves ‘don’t forget to learn, relearn and remember why this disaster happened’,” Ms Wahlström said.

Encouragingly many young people are showing an interest in learning the lessons of the past through their parents and the older generation. At the official memorial service Ms Mai Yoshioka, a Third Grade student at Hyogo Prefectural Maiko High School, recounted how she asked her mother to tell her about the day of the earthquake.

“She said 'I don't really want to talk about it but I know I must'. I learned that not even 20 years was long enough to heal her emotional scars. I felt her sorrow and pain as mine,” Ms Yoshioka said.

“I have had opportunities to listen to those affected by the earthquake, other than my mother. They recall their pain and sadness by speaking out. I believe that the reason they tell us their stories despite their pain is that they strongly want us to remember that day and convey the lessons they learned from it.”

Four of the most deadly earthquakes of the last 100 years have occurred in the last ten years. The 2010 Haiti earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince; the Indian Ocean tsunami affected 14 countries; the 2008 Szechuan earthquake in China and the 2005 Muzaffarabad earthquake in Pakistan, took over 80,000 lives each. These four earthquakes alone had a combined death toll of some 500,000, injured many more and disrupted the lives of millions.

After the Kobe earthquake commemorations, Ms. Wahlström met Her Excellency Eriko Yamatani, Minister of State for Disaster Management, to discuss the agenda and the arrangements for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which will take place in Sendai, Japan, from 14-18 March www.wcdrr.org.

Seismic risk as part of a multi-hazard approach to disaster risk management will be an important feature at Sendai. The Conference is set to adopt a new framework that will update the world’s first comprehensive blueprint for disaster risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted at the last World Conference, held ten years ago this week in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture.
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