Editorial : Courage in adversity - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/13/courage-in-adversity.html

THE scale of the tragedy that has hit Japan is overwhelming. The earthquake, registering 8.9 on the Richter scale and the most powerful since the country started keeping relevant records 140 years ago, triggered a 10-metre-high tsunami. The consequences have been calamitous, even for a country that is no stranger to natural disasters. The world watched in horror as dramatic footage rolled across their television screens: the massive tremor caused at least 80 fires to erupt in the coastal areas, while the churning torrents swept away vehicles and wrecked homes, engulfed buildings and left ships flung on their sides. Contact was lost with trains and ships. A huge explosion at a nuclear power plant has added to concerns and led to evacuations. The costs, it is clear, are going to be enormous. The world`s third-largest economy had just been showing signs of recovering from an economic contraction. Now, it faces a massive repair bill likely to run into tens of billions of dollars. The world grieves with Japan, as it prepares to help it deal with the crisis.
Yet the world must also salute the Japanese state and society, which even in the throes of such a tragedy managed to keep chaos at bay, demonstrating how planning can mitigate the consequences. Estimates of the death toll stood at a little over 1,000, although this figure may well increase. By contrast, the 7.9 Great Kanto of 1923 killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Japan has built scores of breakwaters and floodgates to protect the coastal areas. The latter would have been far more badly hit and many more lives would have been lost had these measures not been in place. The Japanese people themselves showed remarkable courage. Footage of Friday`s tragedy showed people filing out of buildings in an orderly fashion, bracing themselves for aftershocks and even waiting at traffic lights as they sought to exit cities. There was none of the blind panic that would normally be expected in such a situation.
The lesson is that while natural disaster can hit at any moment, proper planning and the existence of coordinated standard operating procedures can save lives. Since the 2005 earthquake, Pakistan has made attempts to develop procedures and instil safeguards against any future disaster. Yet the response to last year`s floods showed the inexperience of organisations such as the National Disaster Management Authority. And while buildings in Islamabad are being constructed to earthquake-proof standards, there has been little effort to replicate this in other seismically sensitive zones. Pakistan must better prepare itself against natural disasters.

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