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Japan’s crisis an opportunity to reimagine the country

in Opinions by

Project Syndicate

TOKYO — In Japan, memorial services for the dead are normally held 49 days after their passing. The bereaved mourn throughout this period. The number of victims of the earthquake and tsunami that assaulted the Tohoku region of northeast Japan has now reached around 30,000, if those who are still missing are included. This was the largest natural disaster to strike Japan in its history, and the entire nation has been in mourning.

Throughout this period, television stations, in response to viewers’ feelings, have refrained from showing frivolous programs and gaudy commercials. Many of the hanami events, for celebrating the annual eruption of cherry blossoms, a much-loved activity for us Japanese, have been canceled. Music and sporting events, along with town gatherings, have also been canceled or postponed. Bizarrely, the American rock singer Cyndi Lauper’s concerts were just about the only events that weren’t called off.

The strong bonds (kizuna) of the Japanese people create great solidarity during dark times such as these. One virtue of kizuna can be seen in people’s inability to enjoy themselves in their usual ways in the face of the loss of so many countrymen and the knowledge that 200,000 more are enduring harsh conditions in evacuation centers.

But there are concerns that these bonds of kizuna may also bind the Japanese economy, which must recover as soon as possible — not only for the benefit of the Japanese, but also because disruptions in Japan’s economy are hitting the rest of Asia, owing to the production chains of which Japan is an integral part.

But today’s strong kizuna and mentality of mourning have led to sharply diminished consumption. The tourism industry has been directly hit by people refraining from travel, and the abundant hot springs in the Tohoku region, normally popular with tourists and totally unaffected by the earthquake or tsunami, have become a victim of the disaster. Similarly, the baseless rumor that all of Japan is soaked in radiation has caused tourism from abroad to plummet.

Meetings and parties in Tokyo have been canceled, and this has directly affected not only hotels and inns, but also the liquor industry and the food and beverage industry. The restaurant industry, too, is being pushed to the wall. It is now no problem to get reservations at restaurants with three Michelin stars. Despite the great efforts made to manage refrigeration amid blackouts caused by power shortages, customers are not turning out.

Likewise, customers who formed lines to buy up water and toilet paper immediately after the disaster are now slow to return to supermarkets. And this tendency to shun all purchases except disaster-related goods, is not limited to east Japan. It is a nationwide trend.

This curtailed consumption, however, comes at a time when Japan’s economy is already weak. Indeed, the Japanese economy, which has endured two decades of sluggishness, has been falling behind in the global economy even more since the shockwaves caused by Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008. Now it has been struck by a combination of prolonged deflation and the shocks caused by the recent natural disasters.

The end of April will mark 49 days since the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11. The profound disruption of the economy will continue at least until that time. It took a year for consumption to recover after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, but the widespread damage did create widespread demand back then, and should do so again.

Enormous demand will be created for construction of temporary housing and, later, for the reconstruction of lost towns. The estimated damage of ¥25 trillion is also the size of the potential reconstruction demand.

But Japan’s government needs to think big and creatively. If towns suffering from depopulation before they were destroyed are transformed in their reconstruction, they could mark the emergence of a new model for regional development that can decentralize Japan’s Tokyo-centric economy.

Farmland that had been worked by an aging population with no successors, and that was subdivided into blocs that were too small, has now become vacant, opening the way for much larger-scale farming. Similarly, individually operated fishing businesses whose potential heirs ended up choosing other careers can now be reorganized and consolidated, thereby taking advantage of greater economies of scale.

Perhaps most importantly, the nuclear accident has shed a stark light on the need for safe, renewable energy, which had been shunned in the past. The current government has plans to generate power using large-scale solar and wind power plants in the disaster-affected areas.

But Japan’s economy has for too long been stuck in a ditch as a result of its being bound by over-regulation and a rigid adherence to precedent. So, if there is a ray of light to come from the horrors suffered by the people of the Tohoku region, it is that the Japanese understand that what they need most of all nowadays is clear leadership with a coherent and bold plan for rebuilding and renewing their country.

Indeed, the only way truly to honor those who lost their lives is to create a new-model Japan from the tsunami’s wreckage, rather than simply restoring towns and their economies to their previous decadent conditions.

Yuriko Koike, Japan’s former defense minister and national security adviser, is Chairman of the Executive Council of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

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Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

U of S student spearheads Japanese aid efforts

in News by

News Editor

Satoshi Shibata is putting everything aside to help victims of the Japanese tsunami.

The international studies student called an open community meeting on March 13 to figure out what could be done to help in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

The group of 30 or so people included several members of the International Student’s Association and Saskatoon’s large Japanese community.

“We have a lot of people in Saskatoon still trying to find family and friends,” said Shibata.

He came to Saskatoon for high school, but his parents and sister still live near Tokyo.

“Even when I talk to my parents on Skype, they are still feeling the aftermath,” Shibata said. “The disaster isn’t over yet. It’s still ongoing.”

Shibata’s connections span the whole country, adding to his sense of responsibility. On a bike trip across Japan, he got to know people in all kinds of communities.

“I’ve got connections in every prefecture,” he said. “I was getting help all along the way, and this is maybe a way to give back.”

This group, still so new that it has no formal name, is meant to provide the community with an outlet to help. Shibata divided the group into three task forces: communication, events and an external group.

The communications team is devoted to updating information on the situation in Japan, contacting the Canadian embassy and locating phone numbers or ways to find missing people.

The events coordination group is already hard at work organizing public and educational fundraisers.

The external group will focus on government communications and on contacting local businesses to garner a higher profile and to gather donations.

Shibata signed a partnership agreement with the Red Cross on March 15.

“It is important students know exactly where their donations are going,” Shibata said at the meeting.

Their first fundraiser is a documentary night at 4:30 p.m. March 18 in the International Students Study Abroad Centre, thanks in part to the African Students’ Association donating their reserved time with the space — donations will gladly be accepted.

The group is also hosting a cultural event April 2 at Louis’. The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union has agreed to waive the costs of hosting, so all proceeds will go to the Red Cross’s disaster relief efforts.

“We don’t need to be limited as residents of Saskatoon. Our efforts can create more bond in the community and internationally,” said Shibata.

“Roads are blocked, people still need to find their families,” he added, saying that as an import-dependent nation, Japan will have a particular need for food and water in the aftermath.

In the interim, the Crisis Relief Students Association on campus will be hosting bake sales on Wednesdays to fundraise for both Libyan and Japanese aid. The sales will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m every week in the Arts Tunnel.

Faizah Jamil, the founder and president of the CRSA, says their efforts to fundraise will be similar to their fundraising for Pakistan last semester, which yielded over $5,000 in donations.

“Our efforts for Pakistan included bakes sales, a dinner and entertainment night, booths in malls and stores”¦ as well as promoted a lot of awareness as to what is happening there with the floods,” she said, adding that the group planned to do as much if not more for the crisis at hand.

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image: Pete Yee/The Sheaf

Catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Japan

in News by

The Sheaf

Japan earthquake map – NASA

TORONTO — On March 11 at 2:46 p.m. local time, a devastating earthquake rocked northeast Japan, triggering tsunamis across the Pacific Rim.

Thousands of Japanese are scrambling to find higher ground in the midst of the most catastrophic earthquake the country has witnessed since it began recording seismic activity 140 years ago.

According to the U.S. Geological Service, the disaster is reported to have measured an astounding 8.9 on the Richter Scale. Striking 125 kilometres off Japan’s Eastern coastline at a depth of ten kilometres, the earthquake surpassed the Haiti earthquakes of 2010 in magnitude; some 50 aftershocks have been recorded. The quake is also the fifth largest in the world over the past 111 years.

Japanese government officials have confirmed almost 500 deaths and fatalities are expected to rise substantially in coming days.

The tsunami that thumped Japan soon afterwards was mammoth, with waves reaching upwards of seven metres. Cars, buildings, homes and other debris were swept away like driftwood in a current, annihilating Japanese infrastructure in its
wake. In the urban centre of Sendai, the airport has been completely submerged with most flights in and out of Japan being cancelled or delayed. Despite the abundance of water, fires have also managed to break out in urban areas due to collapsed gas lines caused by the tsunami.

Over 50 countries, including Canada, have been issued tsunami warning in response to the disaster. Waves began to crash ashore in Hawaii in the early hours of March 11 and reached Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s northern coastline at
approximately 7 a.m. Waves were reported at measuring roughly one metre on Canada’s west coast and no considerable damage has been incurred.

Although B.C.’s coastline endured minimal damage, it was clear the natural disaster hit close to home for many Canadians who were traveling when the disaster struck. The atmosphere at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto was subdued; strangers silently crowded around TVs to view the havoc unfolding in Japan. Some phoned loved ones in B.C. and those in other affected areas around the world.

Japanese officials warn another earthquake is imminent in the coming days while the country’s government struggle to evacuate heavily populated areas and rescue those stranded by the tsunami.

U of S students recovering from New Zealand earthquake

in News by

Associate News Editor

Two University of Saskatchewan students are recovering in a hospital after being seriously injured in an earthquake that shook Christchurch, New Zealand on Feb. 22.

According to the Globe and Mail, Jenna Benoit, 21, and her boyfriend Patrick Lee, 22, were walking on Columbo Street when the earthquake hit and trapped them under a collapsed two-story brick building.

Nearby residents pulled the severely injured pair out of the debris.

Lee suffered a skull fracture, breaks in his spine, neck and arms. Benoit, whose injuries are considered less severe, suffered a fractured skull, spinal fractures, a lacerated liver and a broken foot.

According to witnesses, Lee was disoriented when he was freed from the debris. He kept calling for Benoit and was reluctant to go to the hospital because he thought she was still stuck under the debris.

The rescuers managed to get Lee into the back of a pick-up truck and transferred him to the hospital. Benoit was transferred to the hospital in a separate vehicle.

The Edmonton Journal spoke with both students’ parents about the incident and reported that Lee underwent surgery Feb. 23 to remove bone fragments from his skull that had been putting pressure on his brain.

Lee’s father Larry Lee was able to speak to Patrick the day after the surgery.

“We just spoke to him briefly. He was very incoherent. He doesn’t know what’s happened. He’s quite confused,” said Larry.

He said that Patrick has no recollection of where he was or what he was doing when the earthquake occurred.

Benoit’s parents were able to talk to her the day after the incident, reported the Globe and Mail.

“It was a very big relief,” said Jenna’s father Chris Benoit.

“Once Brenda Lee [Jenna’s mother] heard Jenna’s voice it was just a God send.”

The Edmonton Journal also reported that both the Lees and the Benoits flew to Christchurch this past weekend. Both emphasized their appreciation for how the incident has been handled, including the great care their children have received and the strong support they’ve received from the community.

However, they are especially grateful for the people who rescued their children.

“All we know is that we’re very, very grateful that somebody found them as quickly as they did. They were some of the first casualties who were brought to Christchurch hospital, and they’ve been there since very early after the earthquake took place,” said Larry.

Patrick and Jenna have been in New Zealand since November and had planned to return home in August.

More than 100 people have been killed in the quake and approximately 240 more are missing.

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photo by Dave Manthei/Flickr

Haiti a disaster area long before the earthquake

in Opinions by

Opinions Writer

Sixty per cent of the Haitian public have no access to even basic health care services. Nearly half of the children in Haiti are unvaccinated, and close to 90 per cent suffer from water-borne diseases and intestinal parasites. Haiti also has the highest rates of cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in either of the Americas. The infant mortality rate in Haiti is the highest of any country in the western hemisphere.

In addition to the health care statistics, consider some of these realities. Haiti is the poorest country (demographically speaking) in both of the Americas. The average Haitian lives on less than $2 per day, and 80 per cent of the country lives in severely impoverished conditions. The illiteracy rate in Haiti is approaching 50 per cent, and roughly half of the Haitian population is under the age of 20.

The truly appalling and saddening part however, is that all of these statistics were taken from reports completed prior to January 2010 — before the earthquake. They give insight into why the earthquake was so devastating in the first place, and why the ongoing crisis continues to deepen.

The sad truth is that for some Haitians, there is little disparity between life before and after the earthquake. Health care is unavailable, diseases remain untreated, food is scarce, water is dirty and education is a distant thought. In many senses, there is nothing new about this reality.

Within the first weeks after the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, celebrities of all shapes and forms took their turn with Telethons, benefit concerts and infomercial style pleas for donations and aid to Haiti. I remember asking myself how many of them would have been able to point out the poverty stricken country on a map on Jan. 11. Even more disturbing, I wondered how many of the people who had become whole-hearted Haiti-helpers had even a vague conception of what the country would have looked like before the earthquake struck, or of how badly their help was needed before the ground shook and the aftermath attracted the international spotlight of humanitarianism.

It is of course the duty of all of us fortunate enough to escape such suffering to do whatever is within our means to help the Haitian people in a time of such great need. But we mustn’t forget that responding to disasters and reacting to tragedies is only one small part of creating a better world and improving the situations of those less fortunate.

The current situation in Haiti is a catastrophe that has been caused not only by the effects of a 7.0 earthquake that lasted 38 seconds, but by decades of unstable government, a decimated economy, a severely degraded natural environment and saddening levels of poverty that the world has seemed content to ignore. All of these things left Haiti more vulnerable to a natural disaster than any other country in the western hemisphere.

The earthquake in Haiti will be remembered as one of the worst catastrophes of our time. What will be more easily forgotten is the tragedy that Haitian people have lived in for decades. The crisis in Haiti should serve as a reminder that there are people in need all over the globe and we shouldn’t wait until the ground literally shakes before they become a priority.

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