On 16 March 2015, a UNU-IAS panel discussion at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction explored the challenges of transitioning from immediate disaster response to longer-term recovery, reflecting on lessons from the March 2011 “triple disasters” in Japan.
Opening remarks by Prof. Kazuhiko Takeuchi (Senior Vice-Rector, UNU) highlighted the pressing need to address such transition challenges in the post-2015 global framework for disaster risk reduction. He noted that while four years had passed since the 2011 disasters in Japan, the transition had not been smooth, and the recovery had been delayed in many communities.
Ana Mosneaga (UNU-IAS) presented findings from UNU-IAS field research in Fukushima, showing how measures developed during the response phase – such as those on evacuation zoning and compensation payments — had long-term consequences for the recovery process. Her presentation emphasized the need for inclusive policy formulation to ensure that recovery plans foster ownership among the affected communities, and to support displaced people in finding workable solutions.
Eiko Ishikawa (Chiba University, Japan) considered housing issues, noting that policies had expected evacuees to relocate first to temporary housing, and then back to their homes or into subsidized housing — but in reality their choices had been far more varied. She cautioned that while recovery efforts often focus on highly visible initiatives such as infrastructure, the “soft” side of recovery, such as rebuilding livelihoods, was equally important.
Describing the 2011 disaster response in Iwate prefecture, Japan, Shinji Akitomi (Iwate Medical University, Japan) emphasized the need for effective command, control and communication for providing medical relief. Highlighting the fragmented and often misleading information available during the immediate response, he stressed the need to build mechanisms that support information-sharing between different actors and institutions.
Shigeo Tatsuki (Doshisha University, Japan) explained how persons with disabilities experienced difficulties due to social changes caused by the 2011 disasters, rather than their own impairments. He observed that the promotion of home-based care in Miyagi prefecture led to higher casualties than in Iwate, where the rate of institutionalization was higher, and discussed the relationship between social welfare and disaster risk reduction.
Shingo Nagamatsu (Kansai University, Japan) described emergency job creation schemes in Japan after the March 2011 disasters, comparing them to cash-for-work programmes often implemented as part of the humanitarian response to disasters. He explained their advantages — such as empowering affected people — but noted that the majority of participants had no dependents, suggesting that the programmes were not able to assist families in the affected areas.
Christopher Hobson (Waseda University, Japan / UNU-IAS) suggested that the lack of accountability for the Fukushima nuclear accident was contributing to continued distrust. He stressed that radiation was not only a technical issue, and that more attention should be focused on the social dimension of recovery.
Interactive discussion with the audience explored issues including the regulation of nuclear power in Japan, the vulnerability of elderly people to disasters, and the need to provide appropriate relocation options and other sustainable solutions to displacement.
* * * *
This event was organized as part of the UNU-IAS Fukushima Global Communication Programme, a research initiative examining impacts of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of March 11, 2011 on people and society, the challenges of the recovery process in Fukushima, and related issues of risk and information provision.