Awaji Conference Statement 2014

Awaji Conference Statement
The 15th Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan
Saturday, August 2, 2014

This facility,the Awaji Yumebutai,was constructed as part of efforts to not only rebuild following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake,but also to provide a better level of infrastructure,and the Awaji Conference that takes place here was established as an annual gathering aimed at promoting and supporting community building in the Asia-Pacific region.

The main theme of this year’s conference was“20th Anniversary of Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake:To prepare for Next Disaster ―― Private Sector,Kansai Area and World ――”There is a lot of interest in maintaining safety and security in the event of disaster, and the commemorative lectures dealt with Japan in an international context,Operation Tomodachi,an assistance operation in which the U.S. military supported Japan in disaster relief,and corporate disaster risk management,which used initiatives being conducted by Nissan Motor as an example.And at the forum on the second day,keynote proposals were presented,after which three parallel sessions explored international cooperation in disaster prevention,measures taken by companies,and preparedness for the next large disaster to occur in the Kansai region.I think that the conclusion was that preparedness is recognized as being extremely important by everyone.

Dealing with disasters is usually difficult.Every disaster is different,and basically only occurs once.You can carefully study previous disasters and narrow your perspective to focus on the lessons that can be learned, but then the next disaster will appear out of a blind spot.It was pointed out that the experience of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake has made people think that the next disaster will be on a similar scale,and that paradoxically,this has led to complacency in terms of preparedness.When disaster strikes unexpectedly,human beings tend to panic.But if they have considered unusual scenarios and tried to reflect them in their preparations,or if they have accumulated experience of dealing with other sorts of situations,they can often deal with disaster effectively.

To be prepared,it is important to“fear correctly.”To ensure that natural disasters do not turn into humanitarian disasters,it is crucial to think about how to rebuild,with the addition of social media,systems that enable the distribution of accurate information,and how to ensure that responses are effective.Here in Japan,even though people may say that we should decentralize in order to be more resilient to disasters,with the Olympics on the horizon,investment is becoming even more centered on Tokyo.Although back-up plans in the event that a disaster occurs are apparently being explored at various organizational levels,Japan as a nation is not giving adequate thought to this issue.The current approach seems to be to make Tokyo resilient enough to withstand any disaster,but I think there’s a big problem with simply pressing forward without considering what would happen if a disaster on a scale that exceeds expectations were to occur.

Besides preparedness,I think that another thing that was emphasized at this conference was cooperation.I’m talking about cooperation on a multitude of levels:cooperation with international society,particularly through the United Nations,cooperation between countries,cooperation between the national government and local governments,cooperation between local governments and the military,the police,and fire departments,as well as the activities of the NGOs,citizens,and volunteers that connect them.The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake,when 1.38 million volunteers suddenly appeared,has been regarded as marking the beginning of volunteering in Japan.And when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred,cooperation between local governments had been greatly improved.Regarding NGOs,a new development is that they are acting as specialists rather than simply 15 Awaji Conference Statement acting in numbers.The foundation for all this cooperation among government and non-government organizations is local communities,and there was a lot of discussion about large-scale,multi-level cooperation that emphasizes the local-community level.

Regarding the United Nations and Japan,at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake Japan received assistance from more than 100 countries.Nevertheless,it was pointed out that the real-time transmission of information to the world was inadequate.

Japan possesses high-level disaster-prevention capabilities and technology.This is clear from the fact that the earthquake in Haiti,despite having a smaller magnitude than the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake,claimed the lives of 300,000 people,while the Sumatra tsunami,despite resulting from an earthquake that was of only slightly higher magnitude than the Great East Japan Earthquake,resulted in over ten times as many deaths as that disaster.However it doesn’t mean that Japan is not indifferent at all to the standards and policies for handling disaster that has been developed based on its experiences of providing assistance,mainly through the United Nations,in the wake of large disasters around the world.For example,there remains indifference about accepting assistance from overseas.

Furthermore,when something happens,it is obviously important at every phase for people providing assistance to demonstrate expert skill and exercise complete dedication to somehow deal with the situation.However,attempts are being made internationally to devise specific formats and systems for handling large disasters,and it was pointed out that Japan may also need to place more emphasis on things like that.Local governments are obviously important.In the case of Japan,when that system had been considerably strengthened,the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.The view has been that local governments should play the main role in disaster prevention,recovery,and reconstruction,and the Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake also reported from that perspective.However,if a massive disaster that local governments are incapable of dealing with occurs,the national government must step in to lead the overall response based on a certain policy.I will return to this point later when I discuss the FEMA(U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency)issue.

We were also able to learn about cooperation between the U.S. military and the Japan Self-Defense Force(JSDF).At the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake,almost all help was refused,but when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred,assistance was received from the U.S. and Australian militaries.However,the JSDF and the U.S. Marines still had inadequate knowledge of each other’s capabilities,and I think Operation Tomodachi deepened understanding and enabled information to be more widely shared.We learned that in preparation for the next large disaster,this experience is being employed to forge stronger ties not only between the Japanese and U.S. governments,but also between local governments and the Marines.Furthermore,it was repeatedly pointed out that what may be more important than anything else in the cooperative process is the response at the community level.I think that while there is a need for large international and national frameworks,standards and policies for responses,and fiscally-backed efforts to improve resilience,it is also essential to combine these with taking advantage of frontline-based ideas and action that is rooted in local conditions.

We also heard a systematic explanation of corporate BCP(business continuity planning),and it was pointed out that local communities should start giving shape to ideas for CCP(community continuity planning).After all,networks that connect people with people are extremely important,and the Hyogo Framework for Action comprises five priority actions,but of these,the problematic one,where adequate progress is not being made,is human resources development.It was also pointed out that this is an area that relates to disaster prevention and serious social issues(the environment,poverty,etc.).

Looking at the details of the processes that occurred following the Great East Japan Earthquake,the national government has created,and provided funding for,a number of new schemes.The Reconstruction Agency has told local governments to make use of them,but local governments are confused about what they should actually be doing.What proved useful for actually allowing people to return to a normal life were volunteers and people from NGOs who provided assistance as“intermediaries”connecting the community with the government.

Regarding the relationship between large corporations and their subcontractors,when dealing with disasters,it was said that parent companies recognized that they could take action to ensure the survival of subcontractors that are part of their corporate groups,and would provide solid support.Normally they cannot do this,but when disaster strikes,a phenomenon called“disaster utopia,”whereby people become dedicated altruists,and are even willing to risk their own safety to help people,emerges.In an open situation,rather than transferring oppression,they provide support to those related to them,and are ultimately able to benefit themselves openly.I think that if such fields are opened up,it will be a very significant development.

One interesting proposal was two-location residence.It might seem like a recommendation for people to send their wives far away,but people who live in Tokyo or another large city could have another quite livable home in their hometown.This actually guarantees the safety of their family,because if something happens,they can move,which makes it easier for them to survive.Not only that,I also feel it was a meaningful proposal for making society as a whole stronger,and overcoming the problem of regional cities disappearing due to depopulation,something that was mentioned in recommendations from the Japan Policy Council’s working group on population decline(Chairman:Hiroya Masuda).

Another big issue is leadership.In the case of small problems,the national government can take a back seat and leave things to the frontline.But with serious situations that local governments cannot cope with on their own,the national government should demonstrate toughness and strength and do everything it possibly can.I think that this is the complementarity principle that is being discussed in the EU(European Union)and other places.In Japan,however,the central government issues detailed instructions at normal times,but when serious problems that the frontline is incapable of dealing with on its own occur,it seems to send a conflicting message by calling for frontline autonomy.

This problem also relates to the debate on whether Japan needs something like FEMA.Japan is becoming even more centered on Tokyo,but shouldn’t power be devolved and regions be given more autonomy? And the view that unless self-reliance for local governments is properly emphasized as a fundamental principle,it would be odd to emphasize the national government’s strong overall response capabilities,is correct,I think.When the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred,ordinary citizens watching television knew what was going on earlier than the prime minister,because there was no information system to serve as a backbone for the response.Big improvements were made later,but the system still couldn’t cope with a multi-faceted disaster like the Great East Japan Earthquake,which also involved an unexpected nuclear accident.The Cabinet Office’s Minister of State for Disaster Management is supposed to be in charge,but the Cabinet Office is staffed by officials from other ministries and agencies who go there on one- to two-year terms.This cannot be said to constitute a robust system offering expertise in dealing with serious incidents.Instead,perhaps,a“Disaster Prevention Agency”should be set up and staffed with selected personnel from other ministries and agencies,who would spend the rest of their careers there as specialists who help the prime minister to make decisions.Although some would call for caution,I would like to report that such an issue has been raised.

Here,I’ve discussed the importance of leadership,but many people stressed that human resources development is an even more fundamentally important issue than that.Ultimately,we need people,and we need education.There probably aren’t enough people in each community to implement disaster prevention.The Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Kobe runs various training programs for educating specialist disaster prevention officials from local governments,and each year 500 people complete a program.But is that actually enough? Since last year,the Ariake no Oka Core Wide-area Disaster Prevention Base in Tokyo has been used as a venue for training 500 people from East Japan,which means that 1,000 local-government disaster-prevention personnel can now be trained nationwide each year. Nevertheless,it’s not enough to just train local-government personnel.School teachers are highly motivated and enthusiastic about providing disaster-prevention education to children,and I think there may be a greater need to train educators than local-government officials.

In addition,with the aim of the Awaji Conference being community building in the Asia-Pacific Region,we award prizes to young researchers who have produced outstanding doctoral dissertations,and I think that this is one of the fruits of our involvement,albeit limited,in human resources development.Furthermore,many people at this conference have emphasized the importance of coming to know each other and learn from each other about disaster prevention,and establishing a solid network based on that for tackling disasters.

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