Onagawa’s spirit of togetherness: lessons from the 2011 tsunami

tsunami 19

(Zach Ahmajani, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Naoko Tochibayashi, Public Engagement Lead, World Economic Forum, Japan


November 5 is World Tsunami Awareness Day. According to the United Nations: “In the past 100 years, 58 tsunamis have claimed more than 260,000 lives, or an average of 4,600 per disaster, surpassing any other natural hazard.”

Also, according to UNDDR, by the year 2030 an estimated 50% of the world’s population will live in coastal areas exposed to flooding, storms and tsunamis.

The date for the annual celebration was chosen in honour of the Japanese story of Inamura-no-hi, or the “burning of the rice sheaves”. The story comes from an earthquake that shook the region in 1854, when a farmer set fire to his entire harvest to warn villagers of the tsunami when he saw the tide receding. The villagers fled to higher ground and later planted trees as an embankment for the future.

With a number of earthquake plates running across underneath the island, Japan is exposed to earthquakes. Children are taught to take cover under the desks from an early age in order to avoid things falling and hitting their heads. With an early warning alert launched in 2013, now we have a few seconds to prepare before the ground start shakings, like taking shelter and turning off the gas.

But the disaster that killed 18,000 people on 11 March, 2011 was not foreseeable at the time, though – that the casualties would be due to a massive tsunami.

A massive earthquake of magnitude 9 shook the nation on a Friday afternoon at 14:46, which immediately generated waves that may have reached 20 metres; enough to engulf towns located along the coasts. Up north, Onagawa in Miyagi province was one of them. The wave not only left the town flattened, but took the lives of 827 people out of a population of 10,014.

Eight years on, 6,434 people now live in a town that has rebuilt itself with a bold approach. It decided to “adapt” to the tsunami that Mother Nature generates every 100 years.

From any point in Onagawa, you can see the cove, the very point that brought waves into the town eight years ago. Instead of covering it with an 8-metre concrete wall as a tide-preventive breakwater, which the neighboring town has adopted, in Onagawa the view to the ocean is wide open. The town decided that it wants to not only live with the beautiful view of the ocean, but also be able to see the wave with their own eyes when it transforms itself into a monstrous tsunami, so that they know which way to run.

This police box overturned by the tsunami will be rebuilt by 2020.

The town also moved its centre to the coast where the ground is raised with an embankment. A cozy outdoor shopping mall was built, and the school, city hall and work places are located just few metres higher. The structure allows the whole town to act as one, guiding them toward a newly secured path that will save their lives on higher ground, instead of scattering in all directions.

Strong leadership brought the town to where it is today. What was once a flattened land is now “built back better”, as they strove for. Onagawa’s young mayor played a vital role in keeping the spirit of the people up throughout one of the town’s most difficult times. But it came down to other individuals, too, said Toshihiko Abe, former head of the recovery division of the city hall. “We can leverage on the size of the town, which is small enough to make everyone plays a role, leading in one way or the other. No one is left behind. We also make sure that those over 60 years old stand back and let the younger generation take the lead. It is never about a single point in time, but about the future.”

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Merry Christmas from Erdogan, Putin, Mogherini and the Polish firefighter

Ending HIV: The contribution of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Rohingya crisis: EU allocates €31 million for Bangladesh and Myanmar

Yemen: Escalation in fighting must stop ‘before it’s too late’, Griffiths tells Security Council

European Parliament the most trusted EU institution

Window for a Brexit deal: Brussels to think again May’s proposal

5G is here: PT Expo China 2019 will be held October 31 – November 3, in association with The European Sting

Τhe EU Refugee Crisis: a day in the life of a Refugee in Greece

Spring 2020 Economic Forecast: A deep and uneven recession, an uncertain recovery

UN chief welcomes South Sudan’s Unity government, lauds parties for ‘significant achievement’

Asian and Pacific economies: decreases in tax revenue highlight need to broaden tax bases

Eurogroup: IMF proposes Germany disposes

Medical Education is #NotATarget

Energy: new ambitious targets on renewables and energy efficiency

Public Policies for LGBT in Brazil

Blockchain can change the face of renewable energy in Africa. Here’s how

South Eurozone needs some…inflation and liquidity

As north-west Syria violence reaches ‘horrifying’ new level, UN relief chief says ceasefire is only option

MEPs unanimously condemn recent terrorist attacks in France and Austria

Hungary’s laws on helping vulnerable foreigners are ‘blatantly xenophobic’: UN rights chief

6th Edition of India m2m + iot Forum 2019 concluded, in association with The European Sting

This incredibly detailed map of Africa could help aid and development

Quantitative easing: how Mario can tackle low inflation in Eurozone

New Iraqi Prime Minister-designate urged to act on reforms and accountability

New Syria fighting represents ‘giant powder keg’, warns aid veteran, as he leaves UN stage

From me to we: COVID-19 heralds a new model of entrepreneurship

COVID-19 creates a perfect storm for the extreme weather season

Humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world, warns UN

State aid: Commission approves €106.7 million restructuring aid and €30.2 compensation for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak in favour of French airline Corsair

MEPs choose Wiewiórowski to be the EU’s data protection watchdog

Draghi rehabs ECB into a tool to support growth and employment; a departure from Teutonic orthodoxy

Visa-free access to the EU for UK nationals and to the UK for EU nationals

‘Critical’ window of opportunity closing fast in Iraq, Security Council hears

How global tourism can be more sustainable

A Sting Exclusive: EU Commissioner Mimica looks at how the private sector can better deliver for international development

Refugee crisis update: Commission still in panic while Turkey is to be added in the equation

What the buoyant US economy means for the rest of the world

UK must make clear what it wants, MEPs say in Brexit debate

These 5 countries are home to more than half the world’s forests

Environment Committee MEPs push for cleaner trucks and electric buses

EU budget: Commission proposes major funding increase for stronger borders and migration

There are 3 barriers blocking good menstrual hygiene for all women. Here’s how we overcome them

Asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, symptomatic: what is the difference?

How to build a paradise for women. A lesson from Iceland

Delay is over: Work begins to shine spotlight on where companies pay their taxes

From low-earth orbit, ‘envoys’ of humanity join UN space forum

These are the world’s best universities

EU-Russia relations: the beginning of a warmer winter?

Burundi: Inclusive dialogue ‘only viable option’ for resolving country’s political crisis says, UN envoy

Long-term EU budget: MEPs demand safety net for beneficiaries

South Sudan ‘heading towards lasting peace and stability’, UN General Assembly told

No hard drivers in sight to remodel the stagnating affairs of the EU

It’s time to disrupt Human Resources if we want talent fit for the digital age

A brief history of cryptography and why it matters

COVID-19 Update: Amidst coronavirus bleeding, Trump’s administration is desperately looking for scapegoats

How to replace coal power with renewables in developing countries

Over 330,000 Congolese migrants at risk after mass deportations from Angola – UN rights chief

The digital skills gap is widening fast. Here’s how to bridge it

VAT Gap: EU countries lost €137 billion in VAT revenues in 2017

The world needs a grand coalition to tackle climate change

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s