Japan’s stoic resilience amid major earthquakes

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

Japan, a seismically accustomed nation, faced the aftermath of a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on New Year's Day.

About:

  • Japan's death toll has risen to 55, despite strong tremors.
  • Taking a global perspective -
    • The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey last year claimed over 50,000 lives.
    • The 2015 Nepal earthquake of 7.8 magnitude resulted in 9,000 casualties.
    • The 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan in October claimed over 2,000 deaths.

Japan's earthquake-prone reality:

  • It is located in the 'Pacific Ring of Fire' and experiences 20% of the world's earthquakes of magnitude six or greater annually.
    • There is the subduction (sinking) of the Pacific Plate (in the north) and the Philippine Plate (in the south) beneath the Eurasian Plate, upon which Japan lies. 
    • The movements of these plates have formed six mountain arcs off the northeastern coast of Asia.
  • The country experiences 2,000 quakes annually, highlighting its seismic vulnerability, though not all result in casualties.

Japan's approach to minimise impact:

  • Building codes and retrofitting:
    • Japan's resilience is based on strict building codes, with homes designed to withstand seismic activity.
    • The first level focuses on smaller earthquakes, aiming for undamaged structures.
    • The second level focuses on rare, extreme earthquakes.
    • This adaptive approach acknowledges potential damage beyond a certain magnitude, aiming to prevent human casualties.
  • Early warning system:
    • Japan has a sophisticated early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis, giving citizens and authorities crucial seconds to minutes of advance notice before strong shaking.
    • Each mobile phone in Japan is equipped with an emergency alert system, activated five to ten seconds before the disaster, allowing users to take immediate protective actions.
    • The system vocalises "Jishin desu!" (translated as "There is an earthquake") until the earthquake subsides.
  • Education and drills:
    • Japanese citizens receive comprehensive education on emergency procedures through regular drills from childhood, ensuring efficient response during seismic events.
    • Even trains equipped with seismic sensors trigger nationwide halts, ensuring passenger safety during daily commuting in Japan.
  • Earthquake survival kits and measures:
    • Households in Japan have prepared for earthquakes by storing earthquake survival kits, which include first aid supplies, bottled water, food, gloves, face masks, insulation sheets, flashlights, and radios.
      • These kits can be obtained from drugstores or lifestyle stores.
    • Recently, Japan expanded its natural disaster preparations by introducing vending machines that would provide free food and drink in the event of a major earthquake or typhoon.
      • The machines, which carry around 300 bottles of soft drinks and 150 emergency food items, are placed near evacuation shelters and are intended to be unlocked and made available free of charge in severe weather warnings or evacuation orders following an earthquake of an upper five or higher on the seismic intensity scale.
  • Tsunami preparedness:
    • Japan, acutely aware of the tsunami risk associated with earthquakes, has implemented robust coastal barriers, seawalls, and early warning systems.
    • These measures work in tandem to protect coastal areas, reducing the potential impact of devastating waves.

Conclusion:

Japan's seismic resilience, resulting from years of planning and adaptation, is being tested following a recent earthquake. Despite ongoing challenges, Japan's commitment to earthquake readiness is a global benchmark, offering lessons on mitigating seismic event impacts and fostering a resilient society. This journey is characterised by geological understanding, meticulous planning, and continuous adaptation.

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