From Soma Onward; Working Together for Disaster Risk Reduction

The “Disaster Risk Reduction Event in Soma” was held on March 15th and 16th, 2015.  Held concurrently with the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) (March 14th to 18th) the event was charged with the purpose of learning from experiences of the Soma region in Fukushima Prefecture during the Great Eastern Japan earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.  Additionally, the event served as a platform to disseminate disaster prevention and risk reduction strategies developed during the past four years of recovery. Takumi TAKAGI, in charge of Fukushima operations at the AAR Japan (Association for Aid and Relief, Japan) Tokyo Headquarters, reports.

Complete with impressions and folk music, the concert produced constant laughter

On the first day, folk musician Naoyuki HARADA and entertainer Nekohachi EDOYA teamed up to put on the “Disaster Area Relief Concert”.   Nekohachi EDOYA kicked it off with the story, “It All Beings With Health”.  Complete with impressions of animal’s cries, he reminded the audience of the importance of laughter. He began with his signature Japanese bush warbler (uguisu) impression, and kept the audience howling with laughter throughout his frog, chicken, and cat impressions. His act finished with a chance for audience participation - everyone came together in unity to form a grand choir of sheep imitations.

 “Disaster Area Relief Concert” performers Naoyuki HARADA and Nekohachi EDOYA (March 15th, 2015)
The second act was a folk concert by Naoyuki HARADA, he himself from Namiemachi, Futaba District in Fukushima Prefecture. He began with “Utsukushiki Waga Furusato (My Beautiful Hometown)” and “Hana wa Saku (Flowers will Bloom)”, a song of revival.  HARADA continued his performance with local songs from Soma, such as “Shin Soma Bushi (New Soma Melody)”, “Soma Nagare Yama (The Flowing Mountains of Soma)”, and “Soma Bon Uta (Soma Bon Festival Song)”.  His arrangement, with its focus on local music, had people singing along and dabbing tears from their eyes.

What can we do to prevent future disasters?

On March 16th, the “Soma Region Disaster Prevention Symposium - Reflection on disaster responses at the time of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and DRR strategies for the future” was held.

Kyung-wha KANG, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs gave the opening remarks despite being in the midst of emergency aid work related to the severe cyclone in Vanuatu.  KANG, who visited disaster-stricken areas of Soma City with AAR Japan President Yukie OSA before the event, stated, “The international community remembers the humanitarian consequences of [March 11, 2011].  The United Nations continues to be with the affected families in Japan.”  She gave words of encouragement to those who suffered from the disaster in Fukushima.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha KANG’s speech can be viewed on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.

 “What we’ve learned from Soma’s experience can be applied to disaster relief sites around the world,” says UN Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha KANG (March 16th).
Up next was a talk from Soma City mayor Hidekiyo TACHIYA about the city’s response immediately following the disaster, and DRR measures that have been in the works for the past four years.  Until the Great East Japan earthquake in 2011, Soma had not experienced any deaths from tsunami since the Meiji Era (1868-1912), so the city had no emergency measures in place.  Mayor TACHIYA explained how the city has managed to revive itself by constantly revisiting two tenants; the necessity of immediate action, and the necessity of facing rebuilding projects - all this with the major objective of “never losing another life” to disaster.  “Thanks to the citizens of Soma who united in the face of disaster, we have stopped the trend of desolate and destitute people taking their own lives over the past four years.” he said, turning around to face a panel of Soma residents, leading into the discussion portion of the event.  

Mayor TACHIYA talked about the city’s response immediately following the disaster, and DRR measures that have been in the works for the past four years.  (March 16th)
The panel members for the first discussion topic “The experience of the Soma region” included: Kazuhiro YOKOYAMA, captain of Soma City Fire Department District 7; Nobutoshi WADA, principal of Minato Nursery School; Yoshiyuki AOTA, representing the Board of Directors of Support Center Pia NPO; Hideko IGARASHI, a representative from Soma City Storyteller Group who was swallowed up by the tsunami;   Hatsuko NITSUMA, president of the Soma City Women’s Liason Group, who organized emergency rice rationing aid immediately following the disaster; and Shozo KANNO, president of the Matsukawaura Tourism Hotel Association, who has made great efforts to revitalize Matsukawaura’s picturesque landscape and its place as a prominent tourist spot in the prefecture.  The panel members reflected on the disaster, saying things such as, “it is important to remember that you must protect your own life”, “it’s essential to know where your loved ones are at all times and have a solid grasp on your surroundings”, and “I want the story of Soma to live on for future generations to learn from”.  

Discussion panel 1 “Working for DRR using our experiences and wisdom”.  All members of the panel have been active in the revival activities of Soma, and told of their experiences during the disaster and shared what they’ve learned (March 16th).
The second panel’s topic was “Reports from the medical community”, featuring medical professionals from the Soma region.  Each physician reported on a different theme based on his/her medical practice.  The director of Minamisoma City General Hospital Youhao OIKAWA reported on “The nuclear accident and strokes”; Dr. Sae OCHI of Soma Central Hospital on “The nuclear accident and its effect on health”; Dr. Masaharu TSUBOKURA on “Radiation exposure in the Soma region and countermeasures”; Dr. Tomohiro MORITA on “The aging of population after the nuclear accident”.  They offered insights on the effects of radiation on the human body and things elderly people should pay attention to in terms of their health.  They also answered questions gathered from the audience in a professional, easy to understand way.  

Discussion panel 2 members included medical professionals working in the Soma region.  They answered audience questions in an easy to understand way. (March 16th).
There were nearly 1,100 attendees during the two days of the Disaster Prevention Event in SOMA.  84 people from the Tokyo area attended via a disaster area bus tour arranged by AAR Japan.  The bus tour guests had a handful of experiences during their two-day trip, such as an all-you-can-eat meal of emergency rations, a story from a professional folklorist, a trip to Namie (which is in the designated residence exclusion zone due to nuclear radiation), a trip to Matsukawaura (which was heavily damaged by the tsunami), a stay in the Spa Resort Hawaiians (a symbol of the area’s recovery), as well as attendance of the concert and symposium.  The bus tour was some guests’ first time in the disaster-stricken northeast.  After the trip they reported that meeting local people and hearing their stories was much more intense and compelling that simply hearing about it on the news, and was a great opportunity to think about what still needs to be done.  

Disaster area bus tour participants pray at the Soma City cenotaph (Match 16th).
From this point forward, AAR Japan will continue to help the disaster victims be heard, and spread their experience and wisdom to our greatest ability.  We want to thank the people that helped organize this event, as well as the participants, from the bottom of our hearts.  

 Please take a look at AAR Japan President Yukie OSA’s blog as well.

Takumi TAKAGI, AAR Japan Tokyo Office
Since April 2014, TAKAGI has been in charge of Fukushima related activities at AAR Tokyo Office.  After graduation from university, TAKAGI was a musician, worked in the private sector, as well as worked in a university before coming to AAR Japan.  “My goal is to provide Fukushima with the assistance it needs, building it up one small piece at a time.”  From Saitama, Japan.

Japanese-English translation by Mr. Cameron Lombardo

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.