Japan's Road to Recovery

In this gulfnews.com in-depth look at Japan’s recovery a month after a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear chaos, former environmental official in the Obama administration and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, Robert Verchick, asks the questions: How long will it take Japan to recover, and just what is the right approach to disaster recovery?

Verchick also lays out the process of disaster recover into three stages:

  • Act One: A disaster occurs.
  • Act Two: Emergency response takes place.
  • Act Three: Recovery and how a tragedy is fully understood.

Another key point to consider in disaster recovery is whether to take a heavy-handed or hands-off approach. Verchick points to two examples of disaster recovery efforts to stress lessons learned.

“Looking to the recent history of disaster recovery, leaders are given two contrasting models for how to approach rebuilding: the heavy-handed approach of Kobe, Japan’s Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama after the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 or the hands-off approach of Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina,” Verchick wrote in the article. “Should leaders favor the heavy hand or the light touch?”

Response After Japan’s Great Hanshin Earthquake

The Great Hanshin earthquake that hit the city of Kobe in 1995 killed more than 6,000 people and caused more than $100 billion in damage. However, the city’s mayor, Kazutoshi Sasayama jumped into action an hour after the event and set out to survey the ruins.

And soon thereafter, he created a recovery effort that included comprehensive redevelopment that included a building moratorium to avoid “a chaos of shanties.” He also collaborated with national politicians on a multi-billion-dollar Kobe makeover. Within 10 years, the city transformed into a place with “sleek condominiums and high-rise towers, all designed with the latest safety standards in mind.”

Response After the New Orleans Hurricane

A look at the New Orleans Hurricane recovery response provides a look at what many call “the Laissez-faire approach.” After levees failed and water swamped the city, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin became known as the “Anti-Sasayama” because of his hands-off approach.

Nagin felt that rebuilding should come at the hands of property owners and aided by Louisiana’s federally-funded Road Home program. This approach might actually work, according to Verchick’s assessment.

“And, almost against the odds, New Orleans seems headed toward a future that is more economically robust, inclusive, sustainable and safe,” he wrote in the article. “A new city master plan, developed with significant public input, is now in effect with the force of law. Nearly $15 billion in levee improvements offer an unprecedented level of protection.”

Japan’s Current Recovery Efforts

Japan’s recent crisis far exceeds the two above examples in the scope of devastation (estimated recovery costs now exceed $300 billion); however, the lessons learned are still applicable. Verchick suggests a dual approach: leadership

“Japan’s leaders must be honest with the public about what coastal areas can be reasonably protected against future surges and what areas cannot be, particularly given climate-induced sea-level rise,” he wrote. “Design and safety standards for buildings, rail lines, and nuclear facilities must also be addressed.”

However, he also advises that local communities be brought into the process to ensure proposals reflect cultural values and local attitudes toward risk.

For more information about Japan’s disaster recovery and previous lessons learned, read the full article: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/japan-s-road-to-recovery-1.793056