Japan resilient, but climate change making disasters worse: experts 日本防災力強 但氣候變遷將加劇自然災害

Wed, Sep 12, 2018 - Page 14

Record typhoons, biblical floods, heatwaves, landslides and earthquakes: this summer, Japan really has seen it all, and images of the destruction caused have been beamed around the world.

While world-class infrastructure and high-tech warning systems means that the death toll and damage is generally lower in Japan than elsewhere, climate change is putting that to the test, experts say.

Moreover, citizens used to decades of natural disasters may be underestimating the risk posed by stronger climate change-related phenomena.

More than 220 died in floods in July, mainly because “less than 1 percent of people affected by local evacuation recommendations actually went to the shelters, thinking that there would not be a problem,” notes Jean-Francois Heimburger, an expert on natural disasters in the country.

“People tend to treat advisories too complacently based on their personal experiences,” said Kimio Takeya, visiting professor at Tohoku University, who also sits on a UN climate change body.

But in this era of climate change, personal experience is no longer a reliable guide.

“We are seeing rainfall that we have not seen before. Past experience does not help in this regard. It is also difficult to evacuate your home when rain falls at night,” he added.

‘Nowhere perfectly safe’

Nevertheless, analysts point out that Japan is still well-equipped to deal with such catastrophes, and death tolls are often surprisingly low.“Had these disasters happened in other nations, the damage would have been hugely worse, maybe 50 times had they happened in Europe or other parts of Asia,” said Takeya.

Until recently, Japan invested up to 7 percent of its national budget on disaster mitigation, which significantly improved its resilience, he added.

Only a handful of people died as a direct result of Thursday’s 6.6-magnitude earthquake on the northern island of Hokkaido. The overwhelming majority of casualties were residents of a few dozen dwellings hit by the landslide.

High-tech Japan has “weather forecasts that are more precise thanks to better satellites and new houses and buildings that are more resistant to shocks,” said Heimburger.

“Near the ocean, you face risks of a tsunami. Near rivers, you have flooding. Near mountains, you may have landslides,” Tadashi Suetsugi, a professor at the University of Yamanashi, said, adding that that the people in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas, “have just had to learn how to live with disasters.”