Visitors to the Public Forum of the WCDRR look at a display of personal items (centre) found in the rubble after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. (Photo: UNISDR)
By Jonathan Fowler
SENDAI, 27 March 2015
– A five-day event held as part of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) turned out to be a magnet for the public, drawing thousands of people keen to share experiences of disasters such as the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and to learn about everything from early warning systems to dry shampoo handed out in evacuation centres.
Coordinated by the Sendai Committee for WCDRR with support from Japan’s Cabinet Office and Ministry Of Foreign Affairs – hosts of the 14-18 March World Conference – the Public Forum attracted 50,000 local residents and visitors from around the globe who seized the opportunity to engage with an array of players from the disaster risk reduction sector.
With many Public Forum attendees opting to return several times, the total number crossing the threshold of the venues in the city of Sendai reached an impressive 150,000, surpassing the 6,500 participants at the formal portion of the World Conference.
“This is the largest international conference ever to be held in this country,” said Japan’s Minister of State for Disaster Management Eriko Yamatani, who chaired the conference, referring to the combined WCDRR and Public Forum tally.
The biggest crowds packed into a downtown Sendai venue over the weekend of 14-15 March to stroll the exhibition aisles and take part in workshops on a wide range of disaster risk reduction issues.
“This kind of event is really important,” said Loy Rego, from disaster risk reduction NGO MARS-d, which works in India and Myanmar.
“What’s going on among the diplomats negotiating at the World Conference is about intergovernmental processes. But you need to come here to feel the pain of disaster victims and the power of action to reduce risk. Actions come because people are determined to act,” he added, as he walked among the booths at the trade fair-style forum.
Sendai and its surrounding region were hit hard by the 2011 disaster, which was a major feature of the Public Forum. Events also showcased Japan’s commitment to risk reduction and the country’s determination to build back better and become more resilient each time disaster strikes.
One of the 200 plus booths in the light and airy exhibition space contained a poignant display of personal objects recovered from the rubble after the tsunami, on loan from a nearby museum, accompanied by personal testimony.
“This is a good opportunity for local people to tell their story to one another and to an international audience,” said Takeno Suzuki, an official from the regional government.
Besides NGOs, community groups and companies, the Public Forum also enabled international bodies such as the Red Cross and United Nations entities to spread their message and exchange ideas.
On hand in the venue, Rahul Sengupta, a member of the UNISDR team liaising with the coordinating authorities, said such a forum was important at global events like the WCDRR.
“It provides a great opportunity for the local and international communities to hear from each other, which is especially important in a region like this. Japan is at the cutting edge of innovation for disaster risk reduction and building back better,” he said.
“We’ve had some really great things going on here, such as fire brigades holding activities for children. Disaster risk reduction can be fun too,” he added.
Local resident Akira Onodera, leafing through the detailed forum schedule, was spending all day there.
“I really want to visit all the booths. It’s a wonderful way to learn what people are doing worldwide for disaster risk reduction,” he said.