A look a the long-term, wide-ranging consequences of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan

By Nicolette Smith - 15 Mar 2011 15:30:0 GMT
Where now? Long-term consequences of Japanese tsunami disaster

2011 has been a bumper year for the large-scale natural environmental disaster; not only the Christchurch, New Zealand Earthquake, the Australian Queensland Floods, but now also the Japanese Sendai Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami have wreaked havoc on those affected and spell economic disaster for the future. Once the devastating consequences of the earthquake have been fully realised, how will Japan begin to move forward and what does the future hold for those who have been affected?

Buildings destroyed. Farmland completely ruined. An economy in collapse. How will the Tsunami affect the Japanese population over the next few years, and how long will it take them to fully recover from this environmental disaster?

The Japanese are well-versed in coping with earthquakes; in 1923 the Great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo left over 100,000 dead amidst widespread architectural destruction, and again, in 1995 the Kobe earthquake resulted in over 6,000 dead, 415,000 injured, 100,000 homes devastated and 185,000 homes in need of partial reconstruction. In the aftermath of such events, Japan placed great emphasis on creating an 'earthquake-proof' rebuild.

As a direct result of the Kanto and Kobe earthquakes, Japan is one of the countries best placed, architecturally-speaking, to withstand an earthquake of severe magnitude such as that which took place recently at Sendai. What the Japanese Government hadn't banked on was the knock-on effect of the Tsunami, which hit the east coast of Japan with very little warning.

The ensuing damage caused by the Tsunami has left thousands homeless and may yet cost Japan its reputation as a centre for industry and a leader in the technological fields as factory production ceases during the chaos and the damage interrupts commercial progress.

The short-term problems of supporting the injured, managing a clean water supply, minimising the risk of spreading disease and sending relief to the affected areas aren't the only thing being faced by the Japanese; longer-term issues of re-building the Japanese economy, along with Tokyo's architectural skyline are now looming.

When a population is faced with immediate danger, the long-term consequences are usually the last thing on our minds, and yet the position of Japan as one of the most economically prosperous Asian countries has added another dimension to the disaster.

In a time when the world's economy is perhaps least-able to sustain a further hit, one of the US's greatest trade partnerships is under threat. Over the next few years Japan will face a barrage of problems; not only will it have to cope with the fallout from agricultural crop damage (waterlogged fields from the Tsunami mean fewer crops, fewer jobs and the added cost of agricultural regeneration plus the high-cost reliance on international imports), the national cost of supporting the architectural re-build, the financial impact of low employment rates as business struggle to cope with damaged office buildings and failing systems and processes, not to mention the un-measurable emotional cost as the population loses friends and family to the disaster.

Over the past decade, Japan (the world's third largest economy behind China and the US) has been suffering from something of an economic decline. With the current economic crisis as it is, Japan was in no financial position to manage a large-scale domestic disaster such as the one it is currently facing. Surviving the short-term effects of the earthquake is one thing, surviving the next ten years is another issue entirely.

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