The earthquake and subsequent tsunami which struck Japan last Friday has brought devastation and destruction to large parts of the coastal area near Sendai, northeast of Tokyo. The Japanese authorities are now working hard to bring relief to those affected by the disaster.
As members of the world community we all need to provide all the assistance we can to Japan and its people in their time of need.
Many countries have already sent search and rescue teams and financial aid, but the scale of the disaster is such that it will take a long-term Herculean effort to provide proper care to those who lost their homes, family members and in some instances everything they owned.
Since Taiwan is one of Japan’s closest neighbors, it is in a particularly good position to provide such help. Many Taiwanese speak Japanese, and have friends in Japan. Through these ties, it should be possible to provide assistance that few other countries can because of language or cultural barriers. I very much hope the people of Taiwan recognize this opportunity and make use of existing contacts to provide help.
We also need to accept that such a disaster can strike any country. Taiwan is particularly vulnerable because it sits on the same fault line as Japan. In other words, the same thing could happen to Taiwan. That is exactly why it would be good to review the nation’s disaster preparedness, especially for situations where more than one disaster strikes at the same time.
The situation in Japan is becoming more critical by the day because of a third related problem: the crippling of the nuclear power plants at Fukushima. If the problems there are not contained, this has the making of an even larger disaster.
This is an area where Taiwan is just as vulnerable as Japan, if not more so. It has three nuclear power plants in operation: Jinsan and Guosheng in the north, and Ma-anshan in the south, each with two nuclear reactors which are of the same type or even older than the ones in Japan. The fourth set of reactors, in Gongliao District (貢寮) of New Taipei City (新北市), is expected to be completed next year.
Aside from the older technology, these plants are all situated on the coast, and the question is whether they would be able to withstand an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami. Such an analysis needs to be done and done in a transparent fashion, to reassure the public.
For the long-term, it is also necessary to reassess energy policy, particularly in countries that are now heavily dependent on nuclear and fossil fuel energy.
However, back to my original point: We need to help Japan to weather this crisis. That requires a large-scale effort on the part of both the government and the public. This can be done in a variety of ways — by sending more relief teams, aid, blankets, tents, etc. However, we can also help in smaller ways by reaching out to our Japanese friends and demonstrating that we care. That’s what good neighbors are all about.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.