Pro­vid­ing sus­tain­able so­lu­tions against dis­as­ters

Re­silient na­tions should lever­age tech­nol­ogy in the face of dis­as­ters brought by cli­mate change.

Singapore Business Review - - CO-PUBLISHED CORPORATE PROFILE -

When Ja­pan was hit by the strong­est earth­quake ever recorded in the coun­try’s his­tory in March 2011, To­hoku Uni­ver­sity Pro­fes­sor Shu­nichi Koshimura was in Tokyo Sta­tion, wait­ing for a next bul­let train to­ward his home town Sendai at the mo­ment of the 9.1 mag­ni­tude quake. A tsunami warn­ing was raised by the Ja­pan Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Agency three min­utes after the earth­quake was trig­gered, and an hour after the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake, waves of up to 30 feet high hit the Ja­panese coast, sweep­ing away cars and in­fra­struc­tures, in­clud­ing nu­clear re­ac­tors and power plants in Fukushima, about

140 miles or 230 kilo­me­tres from Tokyo. Over 18,000 peo­ple were con­firmed dead or miss­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ja­pan’s Fire and Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Agency.

“I was very ner­vous and very con­cerned about my fam­ily and friends and ev­ery­thing around my­self. So I de­cided to get out of Tokyo Sta­tion and get a rental car and drive all the way to Sendai, spend­ing 18 hours on the road,” he said. “The tsunami warn­ing was is­sued, but I have no idea what’s re­ally go­ing on or how ex­ten­sive the dam­age is.”

Koshimura, who teaches civil en­gi­neer­ing, par­tic­u­larly in coastal en­gi­neer­ing, and has ex­per­tise in tsunami mod­el­ling us­ing com­puter sim­u­la­tion, talked about his ex­pe­ri­ence, in­sights, and mo­ti­va­tion to

Sin­ga­pore Busi­ness Re­view about how his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in 2011 led him to lever­age the devel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy in pro­vid­ing more re­li­able tsunami in­un­da­tion forecast in­for­ma­tion to his na­tive coun­try, Ja­pan, and how these tech­nolo­gies can be trans­ferred to other coun­tries.

Tech­nol­ogy ver­sus threats

This height­ened fo­cus on lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy to com­bat vul­ner­a­bil­ity and threats come at a time when coun­tries, are also be­com­ing more vul­ner­a­ble to the ef­fects of cli­mate change and ex­treme weather events. Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Of­fice for Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion, eco­nomic losses caused by cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ters have soared over the past two decades, with $2.25t. For the 2011 earth­quake and tsunami alone, Ja­pan is es­ti­mated to have lost over $300b or about 6% of the coun­try’s to­tal gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in 2010. This is not men­tion­ing the thou­sands of lives lost from these nat­u­ral dis­as­ters glob­ally that could have been pre­vented if there were enough in­for­ma­tion­driven, tech­nol­ogy-based so­lu­tions in place.

Post-dis­as­ter tech-based so­lu­tions

Tech­nol­ogy can be ex­tremely help­ful in all phases of a dis­as­ter, from prepa­ra­tion to deal­ing with the af­ter­math and help­ing peo­ple and af­fected ar­eas in re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. This is the case for WOTA, a tech­nol­ogy firm that is try­ing to lever­age tech­nol­ogy, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, and big data to op­ti­mise wa­ter treat­ment process. Wa­ter is one of the most im­por­tant things that peo­ple need, not just in post-dis­as­ter sit­u­a­tions, but also in ev­ery­day life. Speak­ing to Sin­ga­pore Busi­ness Re­view on the side­lines of the Build­ing Re­silient Na­tions and Busi­nesses event in Sin­ga­pore, WOTA chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Riki Kita­gawa cited the ex­pe­ri­ence of the 2011 earth­quake and tsunami in Ja­pan, where wa­ter be­came a se­ri­ous is­sue for sur­vival and sus­tain­abil­ity of life and busi­nesses in the af­fected area.

“One of the big is­sues is that all the wa­ter treat­ment plants along the coast were in­un­dated with wa­ter, so [they’re] con­tam­i­nated,” he said. “For over a year, un­til all of them re­cov­ered even tem­po­rar­ily, wa­ter was not be­ing treated and it was be­ing dumped in the ocean so there’s a lot of is­sues about pol­lu­tion on the coast. We help by pro­vid­ing clean wa­ter to dis­as­ter-af­fected ar­eas by de­ploy­ing these units. But at the same time, we treat the waste­water so we’re not draining that into the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Tech­nol­ogy plays a big part in WOTA’S op­er­a­tions and out­reach, given that it al­lows the com­pany to scale up at a more im­pact­ful range, whilst also pro­vid­ing a stark pos­si­bil­ity of repli­cat­ing the tech­nol­ogy and know-how to other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the most vul­ner­a­ble who are also con­sid­ered as de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

Kita­gawa noted that coun­tries like In­done­sia and the Philip­pines, two of the most vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries to cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ters, can im­ple­ment WOTA’S tech­nol­ogy with­out the costly price tag be­cause the com­pany doesn’t re­quire too much over­head given that ma­jor­ity of the process is au­to­mated through ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and sen­sor sys­tems, although peo­ple have to know how to use the sys­tems.

“Hav­ing AI is not just for au­tomat­ing ev­ery­thing. It’s also pro­vid­ing a way for users to learn about wa­ter and its in­fra­struc­ture and how it is treated,” he said. “In­di­vid­u­als should ac­tu­ally think more about wa­ter and how their lives re­late to it, the tech­nol­ogy be­hind it, and how it would en­able them to be­come more re­silient in times of dis­as­ters.”

“Ja­pan is es­ti­mated to have lost over $300b or about 6% of the coun­try’s to­tal gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in 2010.”

Threats vs Tech­nol­ogy: The panel dis­cus­sion was hosted by the Govern­ment of Ja­pan in Sin­ga­pore. Photo cour­tesy: Reuters Plus

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