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Resilience in Disasters: Japan Offers the World Lessons From Experience




Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, addressed last July 20 the United Nations Third Special Thematic session on Water and Disasters. In his speech—“Adaptation to Climate Change, Boosting Financing and Investment, and Advancing Science and Technology—Nikai explained his lifework of “enhancing national resilience to disasters.” He offered to bring to the world Japan’s knowledge of disasters, learned from direct experience.


Nikai pointed out that water-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, are responsible for 90% of the disaster victims around the world. Citing the recent rain-induced disasters in northern Kyushu, he said, “to fend off against disasters of an unprecedented scale, a strengthening of national resilience that respects the preciousness of human life should be our topmost priority.”




He stressed that “protecting citizens’ lives is my mission as a politician.”


Nikai, who could be called an “evangelist” for enhancing national resilience, has been on a world tour, having been abroad seven times after becoming assuming leadership role in the party. He began with a trip to Vietnam, where he worked energetically, among other things, by meeting with high school students who were about to attend High School Students Summit on World Tsunami Awareness Day in Kuroshio, Kochi Prefecture, Japan in November 2016.


Enhancing national resilience, including tsunami disaster prevention, is the flip side of infrastructure construction, and the benefits are visible for Japanese businesses. Some say that his policy is causing a further rise in expenditures. But for Nikai, this is of little concern. As he said at the United Nations, “I firmly believe that uniting the whole world behind this effort will assist us in realizing world peace.”




Below is the text of Nikai’s speech:


I am Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Let me first acknowledge the importance of the Third United Nations Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters and express my heartfelt gratitude for this opportunity to address you.


Looking at the report on the current state of the world’s water, 663 million people do not have access to improved water sources. Also, 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitary facilities. To solve water-related problems, therefore, is to protect precious lives. This effort will lead to the stability of nations and societies, and further contribute to removing the causes of wars and conflicts.


As a politician, I have been making every effort to enhance national resilience to protect our people from natural disasters. I have enacted related bills and put them into force. I have also been to various countries around the world, to spread ways of thinking about disaster prevention and disaster reduction through preparedness. I have ensured alliance and cooperation with many countries in this effort.



Japan’s Approach to Water-Related Disasters


Almost 90% of victims of global natural disaster arise from water-related disasters, such as floods and droughts. Resilience against water-related disasters is an urgent issue for all of humanity. Japan has experienced a number of water-related disasters. Just this month (July), in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures, one day in July alone saw an amount of rainfall equivalent to the total precipitation of seven months in New York.


I personally visited the affected regions the day before traveling to the United States, and heard about the devastating situation directly from the victims. In Asakura city of Fukuoka prefecture, 774 ml of rain fell in just nine hours. The sad reality is that there are about 50 either dead or missing, and the rescue work is still ongoing as we speak.




In recent years, we are seeing an increasing number of natural disasters, such as this one, on previously unimaginable proportions. Faced with this disaster, I strongly feel that we politicians have a responsibility to act. The scale of damage from disaster changes as society changes. Human beings need to constantly self-examine if we are paying enough attention to our communities and rivers close enough. At the same time, we should keep a humble attitude to reflect whether our preparedness for disasters is sufficient.


To fend off against disasters of an unprecedented scale, politics has to sincerely and squarely face nature and focus on protecting precious human life before anything else. In this regard, I consider the concept of enhancing national resilience is increasing its importance.


Keeping this in mind, I would like to introduce two initiatives Japan has been taking.



The first is the initiative to enhance national resilience. After the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I launched an initiative of enhancing national resilience as a nationwide movement. Protecting citizens’ lives is the foundation of our policy of enhancing national resilience, and is my mission as a politician. I have been working to create a country with strength and agility. Japan being a country where natural disasters are common, I believe it is our mission as Japanese to promote initiatives to strengthen land resilience on a global scale and build a safer and secure world. We should share Japan’s experiences, our knowledge, and the lessons we have learned from disaster with the rest of the world.


My second initiative regards “World Tsunami Awareness Day.” As the understanding of our initiative of enhancing national resilience has spread not only in Japan but in the international community, in 2015 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously decided to designate November 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day.


World Tsunami Awareness Day has its origin in a famous anecdote in Japan called “Inamura-no-hi” (the burning of rice sheaves), which is described in Japan’s school textbooks. In 1854, when a huge tsunami hit Japan, Goryo Hamaguchi, a leader of a small village in Wakayama prefecture, set fire to his own rice sheaves to guide the people of the village to higher grounds, thus saving their lives. He continued to use his own money to reconstruct the village after the tsunami.


In the same spirit, last November, we had participants from 30 countries at the High School Students Summit on World Tsunami Awareness Day in Kuroshio town, Kochi prefecture. This year, we are planning to convene another summit, High School Students Islands Summit in Okinawa prefecture, the land of peaceful coexistence and prosperity, inviting high school students from island states. At this summit, schoolchildren learn the importance of protecting human life, and they will go back to their home country and communicate what they have learned to the older generation.



For the children who will lead the next generation, to deepen their understanding of natural disaster is imperative. It is my conviction that the Youth Ambassadors for World Tsunami Awareness Day will go back to their home countries and work to prevent and reduce disaster risk in the future.


The United Nations has designated a 10-year span starting in 2018 as the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. During the coming 10 years, Japan would like to make further contributions to the world regarding water and disaster. I firmly believe that uniting the whole world to promote this effort will assist us in realizing world peace. There is an old saying, “govern the waters, govern the country.” What it means, I think, is that water is the core of governance.


A wise man once said, “The best virtue is like water.” Water nurtures everything and benefits everyone on earth, but water does not assert itself. It constantly changes its form according to the shape of its container. Thus, it creates no conflict. This is the core of my political philosophy, which I think should spread in the world.



I will continue to make every effort with unshakeable determination not to lose a single life in water disasters while working hand in hand with people from around the world. Let me close my statement by pledging to contribute to building peace and stability in the world through this work. I thank you for listening, and for your cooperation. Thank you very much.



Kei Ishinabe is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun political news department.



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)



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