Disaster Risk Reduction: Japan’s International Contribution

The Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction sets global targets for 2030 that Japan, through investment from the long-term perspective and the experience of Build Back Better, is helping governments around the world to achieve.

An area of the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, November 2013 PHOTO COURTESY OF TANIMOTO MIKA/JICA

A major natural disaster occurs somewhere on earth almost every year. Since entering the twenty-first  century, many lives have fallen victim to disasters, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (Indonesia, Thailand, etc.), Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (U.S.A.), the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (China), the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013 (the Philippines), and the 2015 Nepal earthquake. According to “Poverty & Death: Disaster morality 1996–2015” released by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [UNISDR, now the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)], approximately 1.35 million people died due to natural disasters that occurred between 1996 and 2015, most of whom were people who lived in low and middle income countries.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030

The United Nations hosts the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to prevent and mitigate damages from these kinds of disasters. The first Conference was held in 1994 in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, and there the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action for a Safer World was adopted. The second Conference was held in 2005 in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, an area that suffered serious damage from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. The Indian Ocean earthquake had occurred just before this Conference, attracting worldwide attention. At the Conference, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), ten-year guidelines for international disaster risk reduction, was adopted, establishing three strategic goals, including the integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning, along with five Priorities for Action, including the priority to ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation. And in 2015, the third Conference was held in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, an area damaged by the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011. At this Conference, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 was adopted as a successor to the HFA. This Framework established four Priorities for Action, including (1) understanding disaster risk, (2) strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk, (3) investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and (4) enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to Build Back Better in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. It also established seven global targets, including increasing the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020 and reducing fatalities, economic damage, and the number of victims from natural disasters by 2030.

The Japanese government announced the Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction as international cooperation in the field of disaster risk reduction, establishing investment in DRR from the long-term perspective, Build Back Better, and collaboration between the central governments and various actors as basic policies. It set a goal of allocating 4 billion dollars of financial aid for disaster risk reduction and 40,000 people for human resource development. (This target was achieved by the end of 2018.)

Build Back Better

Build Back Better, as defined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 and Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction, refers to rebuilding an area that is more resilient against disasters as compared to before the disaster, rather than simply restoring the pre-disaster state of a disaster-stricken area. In doing so, damages that may occur from repeated natural disasters in the future will be reduced while also making a sustainable society and economic growth possible. 

Japan has its own experience behind a Japanese emphasis on Build Back Better. Japan has many natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, flooding, landslides and more. In order to prevent and reduce damages from these natural disasters, Japan has implemented a variety of measures, created a safe society, and supported stable economic growth based on lessons learned from natural disasters since the Second World War. For example, the Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures was established after the Isewan Typhoon (Typhoon Vera), which struck the Tokai region and left 5,000 people dead or missing. These measures established that national and local governments would bear the responsibility for comprehensive preventative measures, from disaster risk reduction to recovery and reconstruction, and they also established the Central Disaster Prevention Council chaired by the Prime Minister and the Basic Disaster Management Plan for the Central Disaster Prevention Council. Based on the fact that roughly 80% of the more than 6,000 people who died during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 died due to building collapse, measures were taken to strengthen earthquake resistance standards and to support earthquake proofing of buildings. Additionally, while building collapse from the earthquake was minimized for the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, damages were severe from the tsunami, with approximately 22,000 people dead or missing, and as a result, laws on tsunami countermeasures were established, education on tsunami disaster risk reduction was promoted, and seawall construction was carried out, among other measures. 

Typhoon Yolanda: JICA in the Philippines

The Outpatient Department Building (OPD) of the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC in the Philippines, rebuilt with grant aid from Japan COURTESY OF JICA

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) plays a central role in international cooperation for disaster risk reduction, using Japan’s experiences such as these in disaster risk reduction. JICA carries out projects in developing countries through a variety of schemes, including technical cooperation, ODA loan and grant aid, based on the Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“In developing countries, sometimes a town in a disaster-stricken area is rebuilt as it was before the disaster. In these cases, the areas are damaged in similar ways as before when another natural disaster occurs,” says Matsumoto Hideaki, director of JICA Disaster Risk Reduction Team 2. “To prevent damages from natural disasters from reoccurring, it is necessary to promote the strengthening against natural disasters for the entire country, not just for the disaster-stricken area, through support including the establishment of infrastructure and systems that are based on the lessons learned from natural disasters.” 

JICA’s project in a disaster-stricken area in the central part of the Philippines hit by Typhoon Yolanda in November of 2013 is a representative example of JICA’s recovery and reconstruction support based on Build Back Better. Typhoon Yolanda caused the worst damages from a typhoon on record in the Philippines, causing over 6,300 deaths, over 1 million damaged homes, and over 4 million displaced persons. Japan dispatched the Japan Disaster Relief Medical Teams, made up of doctors, nurses and others, immediately after the disaster occurred, and later, the JDR Expert Team carried out investigations into support needs in the disaster-stricken areas and offered recommendations to the Filipino government for recovery planning policies. As a result, Build Back Better was established as a basic policy in the Filipino government’s recovery plans. 

JICA began the Project on Rehabilitation and Recovery from Typhoon Yolanda from February of 2014. As part of this project, JICA supported the creation of hazard maps for storm surges, and using these maps, held workshops to speak with employees of local governments and residents about evacuation plans consisting of resident evacuation routes and the location and capacity of evacuation shelters. 

A meteorological radar rebuilt with grants from Japan COURTESY OF JICA

They also rebuilt elementary schools and hospitals, supplied materials and restored electrical power to airports, and constructed meteorological radar through grant aid. The structures of the rebuilt elementary schools employed design innovations, such as piloti-style high floors to reduce damage through dispelling the power of storm surges and wide corridors that can act as evacuation shelters during natural disasters.

“Support from both technology and funds are Japan’s strengths in the disaster risk reduction field, says Matsumoto. “This allows for a variety of support based on the state of each country such as national disaster risk reduction plans, concrete countermeasures projects, and local evacuation drills.”

Creating Nations Resilient to Natural Disasters

JICA carries out a variety of disaster risk reduction projects in other countries, as well. 


Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where JICA carried out the Project for Strengthening the national capacity of earthquake disaster protection and prevention from 2016 through 2019 COURTESY OF JICA

JICA carried out the Project for Strengthening the national capacity of earthquake disaster protection and prevention in Mongolia from 2016 through 2019. In Mongolia, in addition to frequent large earthquakes occurring mainly around the western part of the country, an active fault was discovered in the suburbs of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar in recent years, and there is great fear of the occurrence of a large earthquake as there has been an increase in perceptible and imperceptible earthquakes even within the city. Because of this situation, JICA offered support for establishing earthquake risk reduction plans of local governments and the central government as well as support for managing and operating a natural disaster database to grasp and accumulate disaster information for the formulation and revision of the plans working with the National Emergency Management Agency of Mongolia (NEMA), the central government’s supervising organization for natural disasters, as a counterpart. JICA held courses on evaluating and strengthening seismic capacity for local engineers with a private engineer association to improve earthquake resistance of public and private buildings, and also held training sessions on disaster risk reduction education for educators.


Front cover of a pamphlet for local residents and building owners to promote earthquake-proofing published as a part of the Project for Safe and Resilient Cities for Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. COURTESY OF JICA

The Project for Safe and Resilient Cities for Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster has been carried out in Ecuador since 2017. The goal of this project is to expand towns that are resilient to earthquakes, tsunami and other natural disasters, as Ecuador is an earthquake-prone country like Japan and has had many causalities in the past. Counterparts for this project are the Servicio Nacional de Gestión de Riesgos y Emergencia (SNGRE), Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI) and three pilot cities. In the pilot cities, JICA helped in the creation of tsunami evacuation plans as well as a disaster risk reduction agenda including creation of hazard maps and regulations for land usage from the viewpoint of prior disaster risk reduction, and they are also working to expand these experiences to other local governments. JICA also creates handbooks for people in architecture filled with information on a variety of technological standards and standard practices in architecture, and pamphlets for local residents and building owners to promote earthquake-proofing. Training is also held in Japan, with participants inspecting disaster-stricken areas from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the Kumamoto Earthquakes of 2016, participating in tsunami evacuation drills, exchanging ideas with people related to the Tokyo metropolitan government and local corporations on earthquake-proofing technologies and systems, and more. 


A meteorological radar in Mandalay, Myanmar, constructed with grants from Japan COURTESY OF JICA

In Myanmar, a country that often suffers damage from cyclones, flooding and landslides, JICA supported the construction of meteorological radar in three places, including the capital of Yangon, through grant aid, with work completed in 2018. This has made it possible to directly monitor the precipitation, direction and wind speed of cyclones. Additionally, JICA supported construction of an automatic meteorological observation system in thirty locations around the country, and meteorological observations have begun with the dense network. For the Project for Enhancing Capacity on Weather Observation, Forecasting and Warning that began in 2019, JICA is supporting the strengthening of meteorological observation and forecasting capacity through the effective use of meteorological observation devices established through the above-mentioned Japanese support. Moreover, for the Project on Establishment of End-to-End Early Warning System for Natural Disaster that was carried out from 2013 until 2017, JICA supported the construction of a system that would rapidly and adequately transmit early warnings during natural disasters to local residents.

“Through a variety of support, I feel that an awareness of the importance of investments in disaster risk reduction before disasters occur is steadily spreading among concerned parties in various countries,” says Matsumoto. “We will further our efforts in support that protects life and property so that each country can achieve the global targets by 2030 established in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.” 

SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal

This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of the Japan Journal



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