Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Remembered

By Hep Benitez

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BEFORE AND AFTER (March 14, 2011 and Jan. 15, 2012): Ofunato, Iwate prefecture Photo by Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP/Getty Images and Toru Yamanaka / AFP/Getty Images

SENDAI, JAPAN— The participants of the Children & Youth Forum starts at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan took part in the commemoration of all those people who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami which occurred on March 11, 2011.

The National Police Agency has confirmed 15,891 deaths, 6,152 injured and 2,584 people missing across twenty prefectures.

In the solemn remembrance ceremony in Tokyo, Margareta Wahlström, The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said “We think today of all those who lost their lives in the tsunami and all those who continue to re-build their lives four years later. The learning from that tragic event has helped in the development of a robust new agreement on disaster risk reduction.”

“It will be a fitting tribute to all those who have lost their lives in disasters over the last ten years to have it adopted here in Sendai where thousands will gather this weekend to debate it,” she added.

Memories of the Earthquake

Three Sendai actors presented the play “3.11 and How People Were.” The play is based on the March 11, 2011 events and tells the human story behind the disaster and is supported by an explanatory video. It was created based on the actors’ memories from the year 2011 to the present.

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The three Sendai actors of “3.11 and How People Were” Photo by Hep Benitez

The play was divided into six scenes, namely, Memories of a Shelter, The Day of a Graduation Ceremony, Tsunami, Graduation Ceremony from the Memories of the Earthquake, Reconstruction, and Mourning.

On the day of the earthquake, the stage actors were in different situations—one staying in Iwate Prefecture for business trip, the other one is feeling relieved to have passed a university entrance exam, and last one is living in Tokyo.

Common senses and memories flowed among the actors. Thus, the violence of disaster is still fresh in their memoirs.

“What do we need to do now? We have thought about it for 4 years,” one of the actors said.

“From today, we must consider what we will do for the future,” the other said.

The last actor finally concluded, “It is time to stand up for the world we want—a world without disaster.”

About the Children and Youth Forum

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Welcome banner at the Sendai Train Station Sendai, Japan Photo by Hep Benitez

The Children & Youth Forum runs alongside with the WCDRR events. Before the forum, a 3-day series of Pre-WCDRR planning and workshop was conducted.

From among 193 member states in the United Nation, 200 participants were selected. They were accredited by the United Nations Major Group for Children & Youth (MGCY) which is the officially recognized stakeholder constituency for children and young people.

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The participants during the Opening of the Pre-WCDRR Workshop Forum Photo by Hep Benitez

As part of the official Public Forum of the WCDRR, the MGCY facilitated the organization of a youth-led Children & Youth Forum on 11-18 March 2015.

The Children & Youth Forum and Pre-WCDRR Workshops embody all activities related to children and youth engagement. It was envisioned that the forum would be led by children and youth and be developed for children and youth to mobilize and showcase their skills and abilities to lead change in reducing risk and building resilience to disasters.

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The whole team of facilitators of the Children & Youth Forum Photo by Hep Benitez

About Disaster Risk Management

Disaster risk management is an approach which can be used in development planning and programs in order to reduce development-induced risks and vulnerability. The disaster risk management approach includes risk identification, risk assessment, risk treatment and risk communication, which is a part of disaster risk reduction. (UNISDR, 2009)

To reduce vulnerabilities and exposure to risk in different countries, disaster risk management played a vital role.

Reducing risks and strengthening resilience are the ultimate goals of disaster risk management. It includes social protection, public investment planning systems, and infrastructure investments.

Lessons Learned

 The session ended up with the following definition of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR):

  • DRR is multidisciplinary.
  • DRR involves preparedness, warning, mitigation, recovery, and livelihood.
  • DRR is not just about physical structures.
  • DRR is not too expensive. It is cost-effective.

“Disasters break our heart, damage our lives, and lose our hope. Thus, we need to plan before disasters come to prevent losses. We need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” – Ranjan Aryal, Nepal

“Disaster management should consider both type of resilience—physical resilience and social resilience. I believe that the ability of the people to cope with the disaster is as important as the recovery of the destroyed area.” – Sakura Kasai, China

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 Hep Benitez is a Project Agos volunteer, an advocate of Safe School Philippines, and the Philippine representative for the Children and Youth Forum at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.

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