Five Things to Learn From the Japanese Disaster

Much has been written about the Japanese earthquake and the killing tsunami. Nuclear crisis has become a permanent fixture on global headline news given the magnanimity of the situation. There is, however, little mention of things that other nations can learn from this tragedy. It is important to learn lessons as disasters can strike any nation and at any time.

1. Nature Rules Supreme

Man has not been able to claim victory over nature. It is still a long way to go, especially in earthquake prediction, which remains an elusive dream. Tsunamis can be predicted with greater precision and Japan did exactly that. It is but an unfortunate fact that the epicenter was so close to the Japanese coast that people had little time to run for their lives. Leaving the controversial ideological debate on the relationship between man and nature aside -- where many think we are helpless -- we need to continue our struggle to find ways and means that can increase our chances of survival.

2. Earthquakes don't Kill

As has been proven with earlier events, earthquakes don't kill. It is the shoddy construction that puts lives in danger. The Kashmir earthquake in 2005 killed 80,000 people. Nearly 3 million were displaced and many have not been able to restart their lives after six years. During my stint in the relief efforts, I was surprised by the number of intact buildings. There were always some, even in villages that otherwise had the highest mortality rate. They obviously had better construction that saved their inhabitants.

Haiti was flattened out by a 7.1 tremor whereas Chile survived an 8.8 shock with minor damage. The earthquake did not kill anyone in Japan as there was minimal structural failure despite violent shaking. It was the tsunami that swallowed 18,000 lives.

3. Concrete is Better

In regions with the highest risk of tsunamis, it is better to encourage earthquake-proof concrete structures. The heart wrenching scenes of homes being swept away by big waves in Japan bear testimony to the strength of concrete. They can withstand the force of water thus increasing the chances of survival for their inhabitants. Regions at greater risk of tsunami should think about revisiting their construction laws and making necessary amendments.

4. Nuclear is not Safer

Nuclear energy is one of the most expensive ways of generating electricity. It also comes with the highest risks to health, nature, and economy in case of a disaster. We are seeing another tragedy unfolding in Japan as rogue nuclear reactors have failed to respond to the desperate measures being done to avert fallout. Hundreds of thousands have evacuated the region and there are fears of food and water contamination, which may last for years.

Perhaps it is the right time to reconsider our energy needs and make a push for greener power generation.

5. Prepare for the Worst

In countries with a history of natural disasters, it is important to prepare for the worst. Japan is probably the only country in the world where disaster preparedness is part of elementary school curriculum. This has protected them from chaos and has enabled them to start well-organized relief operations. National disaster management plans need to emulate the policies of Japan in minimizing post-disaster death toll and suffering.