Japanese disaster can teach lessons

It’s one of the immutable laws of nature - when you’re down – the elements, somehow, just pile it on.

It’s one of the immutable laws of nature – when you’re down – the elements, somehow, just pile it on.

Just ask the Japanese.

The country is continuing to really feel the apparently never-ending ripple impacts of the historically disastrous combined earthquake-tsunami, followed by the horrific subsequent nuclear energy failures brought on by the natural tragedy that struck the northern and eastern parts of that country on March 11.

Although Japan is one of the most modern, disciplined and best developed countries in the world, the sheer enormity of the disaster has the country gripped in a vice. The question must be just ”where to start?”

Japan, before March 11, was the worlds third largest economy.

Today, the country as a whole, continues to reel from crisis to crisis, after the giant earthquake and subsequent tsunami which killed untold thousands of people and severely damaged the critical industrial and business bases of the country’s economy.

The hitherto seemingly unflappable Japanese seem to have unravelled, not surprisingly.

Much of Japan’s northern road and rail systems were severely damaged, ports, towns and businesses were literally washed away. Many thousands of people are still missing and may never be located.

Watching helplessly, from a distance, it’s easy to feel truly badly about the simple, but devastating humanitarian impacts for the innocent civilian victims of this natural disaster.

It’s more difficult to delve up a lot of sympathy for the corporate operators of the stricken nuclear plants, whose noxious radio-active emissions continue to plague the  people of the region and threaten the now fragile economic recovery of the country.

It is clear that within Japan’s nuclear energy installations, some corners were cut and emergency plans in place did not properly anticipate many of the serious issues needing to be dealt with in the wake of the unprecedented national disaster.

The question remains, can the Japanese people recover from the crises?

Many of their industry-leading automotive businesses have been crippled by the damage to some production facilities and to parts suppliers’ operations in other areas.

At the same time, similar impacts have also seriously compromised some of Japan’s world-leading electronics industries.

People remain evacuated from a wide area affected by the nuclear plant failures. Homes, farms and food sources have been affected by radiation.

Elsewhere hundreds of thousands of people are faced with the rebuilding of their livelihoods, homes and entire communities.

One of the difficulties here is that Japan felt it was well prepared to deal with tsunami impacts, with about 40 per cent of its coastline protected by dykes and dams, some as much as 40 feet high. The tsunami waters rolled unimpeded over the top of the dykes and swept away dozens of communities.

If there’s any sunny side to all of this misfortune, it’s the opportunity for other countries that have depended heavily on nuclear power, to take a close and significantly more detailed look at their own operations and examine whether or not more caution and protection is needed to avoid a similar disaster situation.

Also for other countries that may be in danger of tsunami inundation or serious earthquakes.

Canada and the USA are certainly among those countries, on both fronts. So too, on the nuclear side are France and the United Kingdom where nuclear energy provides much of the industrial impetus.

 

Will Japan be able to emerge from

the catastrophe? Certainly not without very significant investments in new infrastructure and more effective  protection, while its many world-leading industries will have to take major steps backwards to rebuild and recover, far less re-develop the ability to continue to dominate.

What’s happening too is that unless you look for news of Japan efforts to rise from the rubble, the world news has moved on to revolts in the Middle East, elections, the fuss around the royal wedding – just exactly as it moved on from Haiti, China and other places where dramatic natural disasters uprooted lives and economies.

It’s also that time of the year in BC where the status of the Canucks seems too frequently to be the number one story in the news.

That’s another immutable law of nature: people care, for awhile, but time, while it may not heal all wounds, always provides something new and diverting for us all to worry about.

By the time this appears, the Canadian election will be over and we’ll see what emerges from those mysterious polls that indicate an NDP surge. I cannot imagine a surge strong enough that it  could result in a national NDP government.

But, if it has happened, or the NDP are the official Opposition, I suspect the fallout from that will fill our newscasts and print columns to the maximum and the problems of the Japanese will slip deeper into the background.