Cooperatives take off in Japan's tsunami belt

The town of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture (Photo: Jerry Velasquez)
By Brigitte Leoni

BANGKOK 7 March 2011 - Almost one year ago Minami Sanriku was one of many coastal towns in the Northern Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Initial reports estimated that up to 10,000 of the 17,666 residents had lost their lives after 15 metre tsunami waves pounded the coastal areas.

Some 800 people actually died and today the town is trying to get back its life. This is thanks to the help of the 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of residents who, together with Government agencies, have worked day and night to clear damage caused by the disaster.

"The double disaster was a real tragedy for all of us," said, Shuji Kounosu, a local resident. "But it has had an incredible positive effect on all of us as it revived the "koh" tradition (the tradition of helping each other), which was previously anchored in the Japanese traditional way of living. This has helped us so much to regain confidence in the future.

"When the disaster happened, we did all we could to take care of ourselves and evacuate as quickly as possible, supporting relatives and friends and counting on our own forces. You can have all the walls you want to protect you but what makes a big difference are the community spirit and the solidarity between people," he said.

Following a recent visit to the Minami Sanriku, Jerry Velasquez, Head of UNISDR's Asia office, is convinced that the community-based approach is the appropriate solution to rebuild devastated towns. "Building strong partnerships with governments, communities and the private sector to ensure that citizens have a say and are directly involved in the reconstruction process of their towns is definitively part of the solution. This is the only way to make sure that communities understand their risks and protect themselves when disasters happen", he said."

And as of last month it was reported that private universities in Tokyo will launch the Minami Sanriku Volunteers Network for the Revival of Tohoku in April. A centre for these student volunteers is being set up in Minami-Sanriku to help with restoration in areas hit hard by the Earthquake.

The centre's operations will be supervised by a local group that is revitalizing the town. A group of 20 universities, including Taisho University and Rikkyo University, have expressed their intentions to join the network, and will help rebuild local industries, promote tourism, and provide farming assistance. The centre will be ready in July.

Fishermen who lost their fishing boats and homes have formed a cooperative in Minami Sanriku near Shizukawa fishing port, where the ground sank by up to one metre following the earthquake last March. The cooperative idea arose as a way to reduce the cost of cultivating wakame seaweed and scallops and improving work efficiency.

Like the members of the Minami Sanriku cooperative, other fishermen in areas affected by the March disaster also are thinking about starting cooperatives. The disaster devastated 263 fishing ports and many seafood processing complexes in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai has called for the establishment of a "special reconstruction zone for fisheries" and for more participation from the private sector in the fisheries sector.

There is, however, a growing chorus of complaints that the measures the government has introduced to help people and businesses recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake are insufficient.

According to Japanese news reports, government deliberations on reconstruction work were stalled from the beginning due to confusion over the sources of funding. In addition, because it took eight months to compile an extra budget, designed to get reconstruction work fully under way, municipalities in damaged areas have yet to work out basic policies for rebuilding people's daily lives. The delay in reconstruction work needed now is hampering deliberations to devise future-oriented plans for damaged areas.

Prof. Takashi Onishi of the University of Tokyo and President of the Science Council of Japan, recommends using a community-focused public-private-partnership called 'Machizukuri Corporation' to rebuild local services such as health care and welfare, schools, energy supplies and business districts to ensure that they are tailored and adapted to the needs of the community.

"These are the kind of software measures that will save more people in the future" he said. If we integrate the needs of people in the reconstruction plans, communities will be in a better position to protect themselves when the next time comes."
VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018 VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Cartagena, Colombia 20-22 June 2018.
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