Japan: One year on from the "great earthquake" that shook Japan

world | Mar 08, 2012 | By Asia News

Tokyo - "This is the most severe and difficult crisis in Japan since the end of World War II" is how the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the magnitude 9 earthquake that struck the north-eastern coast of the country a year ago, on 11 March 2011, at 14:46,. The quake was the most powerful in the nation's history and one of the 5 most disastrous in the world since 1900, ie since records of their destructive power began.

Then there was the accompanying tsunami, with waves over 40 meters in height, which had catastrophic effects: 15,850 dead, 6,011 wounded and 3287 missing; 125 thousand buildings destroyed fires in many areas, roads and railways severely damaged, breached dams. Four million families in the north-east were left without electricity and one million without water. According to the evaluation of the World Bank, the cost of the disaster is around 235 billion U.S. dollars. The energy released by the quake was the equivalent of 9,320 gigatons of TNT, about 600 million times the energy released by the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in August 1945.

Tokyo, despite being 250 kilometers away from Fukushima, the city that was at the epicentre of the earthquake had 30 buildings destroyed and 1.046 damaged. From 11 March until 8 June 1000 aftershocks were recorded, including 60 with a magnitude 6 and at least three of a magnitude greater than 7. The tsunami that swept Sendai airport while helicopters filmed hundreds of vehicles swept away by deadly waves.

Tons of radioactive debris

The powerful earthquake has left tens of millions of tons of debris in the area affected a year after the disaster, only 5% has been removed, because 86% of the nation's municipalities refuse to accept it: people suspect that it is radioactive because of the radiation emanating from nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Consequently the citizens affected by the disaster are living next to the rubble.

"It 's cruel to leave the task of removal of the debris to the survivors who have lost their homes, families and work," said Goshi Hosono, the environment minister, urging everyone to cooperate to the maximum. "Kizuna", ie solidarity, bond, is the watchword widespread especially for the citizens of Tokyo. But even in February a year after the disaster, only 5% of the 23 million tons of debris were buried or incinerated, despite the offer of money from the central government to prefectures and individuals. The government has planned to clean and decontaminate the whole area by March 2014.

Political alliance

In tragic circumstances, the political conflict between the ruling party (DPJ, Democratic Party of Japan) and the main opposition party (LDP: Liberal Democratic Party) has given way to an emergency alliance: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda , chairman of the DPJ, and Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the LDP, have reached an agreement to overcome the delays in the reconstruction.

The work of clearing debris and rebuilding takes a lot of money. The Prime Minister Noda said that the government is committed to seeing through a tax reform: which means an increase in taxes to the consumer. Tanigaki accepted because there is no other way to solve the emergency of earthquake damage. A sense of responsibility prevailed over any political interests in both leaders. The agreement was not made behind closed doors, but in front of the citizens in an open dialogue in parliament.

On 5 March, the DPJ (governing party), in a debate within the party proposed a reduction of 7.8% of government employees' salaries. Noda, in a parliamentary debate, raised the figure to 10% reduction, then the debate within the two major parties decided to raise it further to 14%. The proposed reduction in wages has been extended to government employees. If the proposal is 'accepted by the Diet (parliament), the annual expenses of the government will fall by 580 billion yen. The money saved will all be donated to the reconstruction of the still devastated north-east.

 

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