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Japan quake anniversary timely reminder of need for disaster preparedness

Engineering disaster relief charity RedR has used the one year anniversary of the Japan earthquake to stress the need for effective disaster preparation in at-risk countries.

More than 18,000 people were killed, 6,000 injured and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed as a result of the magnitude 9.0 quake that struck Japan’s north-east coast on 11 March last year.

Though the recovery effort continues in many parts of the Tohoku region – centred around Fukushima Prefecture following extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – the March 2011 crisis was also characterised by Japan’s remarkable disaster preparedness and response.

“Many state disaster-risk reduction programmes have so much to learn from Japan,” said RedR member and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Japan director general Eric Ouannes. Ouannes led MSF’s response on the ground in the weeks following the disaster. “Within a month, Sendai airport, inundated by the tsunami, reopened. In some areas people went back to work after just two days. If we ever need a reminder of the true value of emergency response professionals – or truly effective disaster preparedness systems – Japan is it.”

With some of the most stringent quake-mitigation building codes in the world; a fully developed Disasters Medical Assistance Team (DMAT); consolidated disaster management systems and thousands of trained volunteers available to support relief efforts, the impact of last year’s catastrophe, although significant, was mitigated.

United Nations special representative of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction Margareta Wahlström said that the world had ‘many lessons’ to learn from last year’s Japan quake.

“Building codes pay, early warning systems pay […] drills, training, public education and awareness also pay off and save lives”, she said.

RedR, which trains aid workers around the world so they are better prepared to respond to disasters, believes that investing in the skills of local communities saves countless lives following major natural and man-made crises.

“As we reflect on what happened in Japan a year ago, now is the time to redouble our efforts to ensure that even more people have the skills and knowledge to reduce the impact of future catastrophes,” said RedR chief executive Martin McCann.

“In many ways, Japan is an example to us all. Training aid workers so they are as effective as possible is just one pillar of effective disaster mitigation. But it’s an incredibly important one, particularly in regions of the world which are less prepared for catastrophic events. Skills save lives.”

RedR runs permanent training programmes in Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan and Kenya and delivered expert skills to humanitarians in 40 countries over the past year.

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