Disaster Prevention

Disasters and Disaster Prevention in Japan

Japan is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because of its climate and topography, and it has experienced countless earthquakes, typhoons, and other types of disasters.

A number of factors contribute to the high incidence of natural disasters in Japan. First, the country is subject to extreme climatic variations, such as seasonal rain fronts and typhoons, as well as heavy snowfall on the Sea of Japan side of the archipelago. Second, Japan's topography is rugged and there are many faults and steep inclines. Third, Japan is located in the Pacific earthquake belt and is frequently struck by earthquakes, while its complex coastline is vulnerable to tsunamis. And fourth, Japan is located in the circum-Pacific zone, in which almost all the volcanoes of the world are concentrated, and has 83 active volcanoes-one-tenth of the world total.

WORLD WAR II TO THE 1960S: Between the end of World War II and the late 1950s, when Japan's defenses against disasters were weakened by the war, the country was hit by a series of major typhoons, violent earthquakes, and other calamities, and over 1,000 lives were lost virtually every year. The Ise Bay Typhoon of September 1959 killed

more than 5,000 people, the biggest toll in the postwar era. It prompted the establishment of a planned and comprehensive disaster prevention administration system, and in 1961 the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act was enacted. Thereafter measures for prevention, emergency relief, and recovery were linked interactively under a system that ensured a planned and comprehensive approach to disaster countermeasures. The enactment of the Forest Conservation and Flood Control Urgent Measures Law in March 1960 was followed by the planned implementation of flood control measures and other projects designed to enhance Japan's ability to defend against disasters. In June 1960 a decision was reached to observe a "Disaster Prevention Day" each year on September 1 as a means of disseminating disaster prevention knowledge and raising public awareness.

1960S TO THE PRESENT: Japan in the 1960s thus began actively implementing measures to shore up both the physical and institutional safeguards against disasters, with particular emphasis being placed on disaster prevention. These efforts have dramatically reduced the number of people who die or become missing as a result of natural disasters. The declining trend is still continuing, and the number has fallen to between 100 and 200 per year in recent years.

Countermeasures against disasters in Japan can be broadly classified into (1) research into the scientific and technical aspects of disaster prevention, (2) the reinforcement of the disaster prevention system, its facilities and equipment, and other preventive measures, (3) construction projects designed to enhance the country's ability to defend against disasters, (4) emergency measures and recovery operations, and (5) the improvement of information and communication systems. The budget for these activities in fiscal 1993 was approximately •2.9 trillion (US$23.8 billion).

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