In early July 2018, torrential rains of unprecedented scale hit western Japan. The rainfall reached 1025 mm in 48 hours at one location and exceeded over 300 mm at many locations. More than 230 people have been reported to be either dead or missing, which makes this disaster the worst case after the Nagasaki heavy rain disaster in 1982 claiming the lives of 299 people. Devastating disasters caused by heavy rains occurred every year in the last several years throughout Japan – Izu Oshima Island in 2013, Hiroshima City in 2014, Kanto and Tohoku in 2015, Hokkaido and Tohoku in 2016, and northern Kyushu in 2017. Each disaster was extremely severe, sacrificing many lives and causing significant economic damage. However, what is characteristic of the disaster this time is that large-scale, extremely severe devastations occurred at multiple locations in several prefectures across western Japan, exhibiting a host of challenges commonly seen in the recent disasters all at once: a huge number of people are affected, types of disaster damage vary widely, and complex problems arise in relation to evacuation and flood control structures.
Japan has been making extensive efforts in disaster risk reduction, particularly aiming at “saving lives,” “letting nobody fail to evacuate,” and “minimizing socio-economic damage.” The government has developed “Policy Vision on Rebuilding Flood-Conscious Societies,” revised related laws and regulations, and organized cooperation systems involving diverse stakeholders. Yet all these efforts have not covered “the last one mile” to save people’s lives. I have been studying disaster damage reduction through science and technology, but, in the face of the recent disasters, I cannot help but feel useless.
Nonetheless, we have to protect ourselves from unprecedentedly powerful hazards. What we need to do is to increase the ability to imagine what will happen next and train ourselves to take proper actions naturally in response to a sign of great danger. To support that, science and technology should be able to deliver forecasts as accurate as possible. Not only that, science and technology should also be able to support people in understanding the information properly and provide them with an opportunity where they can virtually experience a disaster and practice planning and carrying out a series of actions in advance. In addition, trust in science and technology among people needs to be nurtured. For example, an interactive communication system capable of explaining scientific findings in an easy-to-understand way may help achieve this purpose. It is critically important to build a society in which each member continues working on the ability to protect themselves from hazards and uses it properly when necessary. I am sure that building such a society will lead us to the realization of a society where all its members will know that they are protected and safe from disasters.
31 July 2018
Director of ICHARM