Posted by: Bill Carwile, Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery
2011 was full of natural disasters and emergencies – both large and small – but none rivaled the tragic scale of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last March. Just before the start of the New Year, I had the opportunity to again visit Japan, seeing the most impacted regions of the Iwate Prefecture and meeting with government officials from around the world to discuss the rebuilding and recovery challenges that are ongoing.
Government officials from several countries joined in the conference to learn from Japan's ongoing disaster recovery efforts.
As part of the two-day conference, (organized by the Japanese Cabinet Office, Japan International Cooperation Agency, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and Asian Disaster Reduction Center) and my visit to the hardest-hit areas of the country, it was apparent the temporary housing mission is significant. I visited Kamaishi City where temporary housing had to be constructed quickly to house 516 residents. Because of the large amount of elderly, the pre-fabricated housing units were configured facing each other, with common roofing, to create a sense of community and to prevent isolation of senior residents. The temporary housing area also includes a support center to assist with nursing care insurance application and health consultations. Within the temporary housing area, the city also has included a grocery store and other shops, a nursing center and a child care center.
Since I last visited Japan in May, the amount of debris has been substantially reduced, which has helped as rebuilding efforts continue. The sheer volume of debris as a result of the earthquake and tsunami is hard to fathom – there were an estimated 275,000 vehicles and a large amount of hazardous materials. Many disaster response officials estimated long-term recovery in Japan may take as long as 8-10 years due to the magnitude of the destruction.
Numerous groups of volunteers have contributed to the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Japan, one such example is Team HEAL Japan, shown above. (Photo courtesy of Team HEAL Japan)
For us at FEMA, events like the deadly earthquake and tsunami to hit Japan are reminders of the importance to continually plan and prepare for potentially catastrophic events. While we cannot predict when or where the next emergency will occur, we can take steps within our nation, states, communities, neighborhoods and households to be better prepared should disaster strike. During my presentation at the conference, I talked about the recent disasters to affect the United States, FEMA’s whole community approach to planning, the Presidential Policy Directive 8 (which talks about nationwide disaster planning), and the National Disaster Recovery Framework.
In sharing expertise with other nations and learning from disasters that have affected them, it provides FEMA an opportunity to redouble our efforts to help Americans better prepare for, respond to, and recover from all hazards.
For more about how the United States is supporting recovery in Japan, visit the U.S. embassy website.