Govt re­sponse ques­tioned af­ter ad­verse weather claims scores of lives in Ja­pan

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - The ar­ti­cle is from the Xinhua News Agency. opin­ion@glob­al­

A num­ber of me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal, nat­u­ral and so­cial fac­tors com­bined to make the per­fect storm, which since last Thurs­day has killed at least 176 peo­ple and forced hun­dreds of thou­sands to flee from their homes in western Ja­pan, ex­perts said Wednes­day.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ja­pan Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Agency which warned of tor­ren­tial rain and is­sued evac­u­a­tion ad­vi­sories and warn­ings on July 5, the tail end of Typhoon Prapiroon saw at­mo­spheric con­di­tions from western to north­ern Ja­pan be­come very un­sta­ble, just be­fore the del­uge. This was ow­ing to warm and moist air flow­ing into a low pres­sure sys­tem and an ac­tive sea­sonal rainy front close to north­ern Ja­pan.

The weather agency gave fair warn­ing of un­prece­dented amounts of rain­fall ex­pected across wide swathes of Ja­pan and said that the record amounts of rain would cause land­slides, flood­ing, light­ning and tor­na­does.

Hence, ques­tions have been asked about the govern­ment’s pre­pared­ness and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ re­ac­tion times and pro­to­cols in the face of an im­pend­ing weather-re­lated dis­as­ter that would lead to so many lives be­ing lost.

Ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts, the gov- ern­ment has lagged be­hind oth­ers in tak­ing proac­tive mea­sures in the face of an in­creas­ing num­ber of tor­ren­tial rain spells ev­ery year.

“The govern­ment is just start­ing to re­al­ize that it needs to take steps to mit­i­gate the im­pact of global warm­ing,” Takashi Okuma, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at Ni­igata Uni­ver­sity who stud­ies dis­as­ters, was quoted as say­ing on the mat­ter.

He added that, “Ja­pan, one of the most seis­mi­cally-ac­tive places in the world, has stressed earth­quake pre­pared­ness and reg­u­la­tions to make build­ings quake-proof, but it has done less about po­ten­tial flood dis­as­ters.”

On a mu­nic­i­pal level, hazard maps high­light­ing po­ten­tial flood zones and land­slide spots were re­quired to be cre­ated and pub­li­cized in Ja­pan.

In 2001, the maps were re­quired to be dis­trib­uted and by 2013, the ma­jor­ity of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties made the req­ui­site in­for­ma­tion avail­able to their res­i­dents.

But ow­ing to the fact that many of the homes built in po­ten­tially haz­ardous ar­eas that were caught in the re­cent dev­as­tat­ing down­pours or hit by land­slides were built prior to 2001, ex­perts be­lieve that fol­low­ing the evac­u­a­tion or­ders, many res­i­dents did not know where to go to seek refuge.

Kurashiki City, one of the hard­esthit re­gions in Okayama Pre­fec­ture, for ex­am­ple, did not re­ceive its hazard map un­til 2016, and, com­pound­ing the lack of knowl­edge as to evac­u­a­tion desti­na­tions, some ex­perts have said that the or­ders to evac­u­ate, in fact, came too late.

This left hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in high-risk ar­eas with nowhere to go, and even if they did, it would have al­ready been too late.

Other ex­perts point out that in ad­di­tion to the con­fu­sion as to where to go, oth­ers opted to just stay put and “ride it out,” re­gard­less of the warn­ings.

Emi Masa­tani, an ex­pert from Ja­pan Bou­saisikai, a non-profit dis­as­ter-preven­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion, told Xinhua that the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties may have been down to not enough at­ten­tion be­ing placed on pre­dictable weather pat­terns.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal re­ports, many peo­ple also chose to stay at home, even af­ter the weather agency is­sued emer­gency warn­ings and evac­u­a­tion or­ders fol­low­ing the heavy rain, “thus lost the chance to es­cape when the floods hit or land­slides oc­curred,” she added.

She went on to say that there is a cer- tain kind of men­tal­ity in Ja­pan where peo­ple in po­ten­tially pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters just be­lieve they will be al­right, as they have been in the past. “It’s a kind of ‘fluke’ men­tal­ity,” she said.

But, of­ten­times, by the time they re­al­ize the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, it’s too late, Masa­tani said.

Also, po­ten­tially con­tribut­ing to the high death toll is not just the num­ber of land­slides – the land min­istry said there were land­slides at 448 lo­ca­tions in 29 of Ja­pan’s 47 pre­fec­tures as a re­sult of the tor­ren­tial rain – but their con­tents.

In moun­tain­ous re­gions of Ja­pan, rain­wa­ter seeps into the cracks of the gran­ite and the rock be­gins to erode and crum­bles into the soil.

In ad­di­tion, post World War II reforestation poli­cies saw nu­mer­ous moun­tains logged for re­sources and re­planted with trees that have roots with a far lower ca­pac­ity to re­tain wa­ter.

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