recently in Japan
AT the United Nations conference on disaster risk reduction in Sendai, Japan, from March 14 to 18, there was very little acknowledgement that man was largely responsible for the disasters that threaten his very own existence on earth. Nearly all the speakers at the opening of the conference only spoke about mitigation measures in the event of a disaster instead of what must be done to prevent or minimise chances of a disaster. For example, weapons of mass destruction such as the atomic or nuclear bomb and floods and droughts caused by climate change; the tragedies that occur from these circumstances are not natural but man-made. The conference avoided to confront this truth.
Yet the choice of Sendai to host the conference, itself a victim of a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake that killed over 2 000 people in 2011, was most appropriate. In the same context, the choice of Japan in general, would have provided the world with the perfect opportunity to re-visit the memory of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that threatened to wipe out and erase Japan from the face of the earth.
In his opening remarks, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki moon, made reference to the great earthquake in Japan in 2011 and the cyclone that was currently ravaging the Pacific island of Vanuatu and how the UN would help alleviate the situation.
The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe spoke of the massive tsunami at Fukushima that smashed the No 7 nuclear power plants and has until today, killed more than 15 000 people. It was the radiation from the smashed power plant that posed the greatest nightmare long after the tsunami’s tumbling waves were forgotten.
And yet the prime minister could have reminded the conference of his country’s horrible memory of August 1945 when the USA dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 200 000 people, most of them burnt to nothing, not even ashes. There is no documented record in history where a larger number of people perished in a single disaster except the combined total of the Second World War where over 60 million people died. But then the Second World War was not a natural disaster. It was another human engineered disaster where German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, plunged the world into that bloody and costly conflict.
Whereas in 1945 it was only America that possessed the bomb, today, several countries also have it. The silence, even to mention this frightening reality at the conference, was certainly because of the dishonesty surrounding the debate where some countries are assisted to develop nuclear capability when others are not allowed to develop it. The case of Iran is one boggling example.
President Mugabe was the only leader who spoke about ‘man-made disasters’ as a feature of human history and established the link between some natural disasters and climate change.
“Whereas in my country droughts occurred generally once every ten years, they now occur almost every five years.”
Although he didn’t mention it, those of us from Zimbabwe immediately thought about the imminent drought staring the country in the eyes back home. And the irony that next door in Mozambique, they are still counting the cost of flush floods that swept across the northern and central parts of the country this season.
The world knows the primary cause of such erratic weather patterns is air pollution eating away the ozone layer. The world also knows it is pollution from the industrialised world that is the major culprit and not cooking fires from the African villages as some Western researchers and academics tried to argue at some point. In fact, Africa must be pitied because it is paying the cost of these erratic weather patterns more than anyone else due to underdevelopment.
The Japanese people are fierce nationalists. They have defended with remarkable success their traditions and values against the relentless onslaught of Western culture, especially after the country’s defeat in 1945. Like sumo wrestling where massive, scantily clad men huff and puff, trying to throw each other out of a small ring. It’s a sport steeped in Japanese culture that has survived for millennia.
There is a downside to the breathtaking technological development of countries like Japan that is frightening. It takes away people’s humanity and they become different as the machines gradually take over. Here is a simple and interesting example. At a controlled zebra crossing in Sendai, I tried to cross the street because there were no cars coming but an elderly Japanese fellow standing next to me held me back pointing at the red pedestrian traffic light ahead. Whereas I was trying to use my common sense, he was following and obeying the instruction of the traffic lights.
Emperor Tsugu Akihito and his wife graced the opening of the conference. He stayed until the address by his prime minister and then left as silently as he had come. It was his father, Emperor Hirohito who authorised the signing of the Instrument of Surrender on September 2 1945 aboard the US battleship Missouri with the Allied Forces commander, General MacArthur watching, effectively ending the Second World War.
With the Americans in total control as part of the terms of surrender, the Japanese re-directed their energy towards economic development. Until China overtook them less than a decade ago, Japan, an island with a population of 150 million people, was the world’s second biggest economy after the USA.
Whilst there is need to develop early warning systems and intervene when disasters occur, it makes more sense to put more effort to address the causes of the disasters, something the conference seemed a bit uncomfortable to confront.