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Editorial: Pass on lessons from Great Hanshin Earthquake to future generations

  • January 17, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

Jan. 17, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated southern Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan, including Kobe.


The disaster left 6,434 people dead, damaged more than 200,000 houses and caused expressway and railway elevated bridges to collapse and cut off utilities. The earthquake overthrew the myth of the absolute safety of infrastructure and drastically changed common knowledge about disaster management.


Whether people who lost their homes and/or jobs have restored the basis for their livelihoods has been repeatedly called into question. It is regrettable to say that such efforts are still only halfway complete.


Steady progress has been made in the restoration of infrastructure, such as the redevelopment of disaster-hit areas and roads. High-rise buildings are now lined in Kobe’s Nagata Ward that was devastated by a fire triggered by the temblor. All public projects to redevelop areas ravaged by the 1995 disaster will shortly be completed.


Still, such redevelopment would be meaningless unless it leads to the restoration of local residents’ livelihoods. Local authorities went ahead with redevelopment projects that hardly reflected the views of disaster survivors, and the bustle of local communities has not been revived even after restoration.


The Great Hanshin Earthquake damaged not only buildings and other structures. Many survivors who took shelter at temporary housing were unable to build friendly relations with their neighbors and were isolated from society. Local communities that had been maintained until the disaster were divided, and deaths indirectly caused by the huge quake and solitary deaths have emerged as a major social issue.


There remain concerns about the security of survivors’ housing. Those who have lived in private apartment complexes rented by local governments are being asked to vacate their rooms.


Experts have pointed out that following the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Japan entered a period of brisk seismic activity, and several powerful temblors, including the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, have since occurred.


There are some instances in which lessons learned from the January 1995 quake were utilized to effectively respond to subsequent disasters.


An incorporated nonprofit organization comprising survivors of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and others has been interacting with victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in order to prevent a recurrence of these tragedies.


Awareness of the need to prepare for disasters has been raised over the past 25 years. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, residents of some disaster-ravaged areas spontaneously discussed redevelopment of their neighborhoods before they were collectively relocated to inland and other areas to decrease the danger of tsunami damage.


Japan’s population has been decreasing and aging. How disaster-hit areas should be restored needs to be reviewed accordingly.


Those who were born at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake a quarter century ago have entered the workforce. More than half of current employees at local bodies affected by the earthquake did not experience the disaster.


It is expected that a powerful earthquake along the undersea Nankai Trough running south of central to western Japan and a big earthquake directly beneath the Tokyo metropolitan area will highly likely occur in the near future.


Efforts are needed to inherit disaster survivors’ wishes for security and to pass down memories and lessons of the Great Hanshin Earthquake to future generations.

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