Lessons to learn from Japan's stormy resilience

Lessons to learn from Japan's stormy resilience

A few days after Typhoon Hagibis dissipated, images of cities in Japan resuming life as normal were widely shared on social media.

The first thing that this showed us was how resilient Japan is as it was able to return to normalcy despite being hit by the most powerful typhoon in decades. Japan has shown its ability to handle natural disasters in such a well-prepared and timely manner due to its efficient waste-management system and the discipline of its people.

A few days before the typhoon arrived, instructions were given to the population on how to stay safe. Individuals were asked to clear their balconies and not to leave anything behind, not even small items such as hangers or clips as they could possibly be blown away by the storm.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- who was leading the war room -- won praise for his leadership. Moreover, the ability of the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, located in Saitama about 35km from Tokyo, to efficiently divert flood water was nothing short of impressive.

Over the past week, we haven't heard any big words such as smart cities or smart devices from the Japanese cabinet. Neither did Mr Abe's government ask the public for donations to help the typhoon victims. Instead, the government immediately allocated 710 million yen (almost 200 million baht) from its 2019 fiscal budget reserves to tackle the killer storm and its aftermath.

On social media, photos of several Japanese cities went viral since the typhoon first hit the country. Most photos showed how the country had been damaged by the worst storm to hit the country in decades, with some regions getting up to three feet of rain in just 24 hours.

Among the images shared which won praise from netizens were a pair of photos featuring a village inundated with water which did not have a single piece of rubbish. It was a testament to the country's efficient waste management system and duty to public responsibility. Without trash, water could flow away unrestricted.

Japan's cities are well-planned and so resilient that they can return to normal without delay when natural disasters strike.

Last September, Kansai International Airport was able to resume full service in just 17 days after being hit by Typhoon Jebi which had led to floods and damaged an access bridge.

In comparison, things are far different in Thailand. For example, look at Ubon Ratchathani in the Northeast which was battered by tropical storms Podul and Kajiki or how about Bangkok which gets flooded every time a depression lashes the city. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration always makes excuses such as the presence of too many reckless people who litter leading to rubbish clogging city sewage pipes. Even though the capital boasts of having a giant tunnel to drain flood water, does anyone have an idea if it is really helpful?

Imagine if a typhoon hit the city!

I had a chance to visit Ubon Ratchathani last week, exactly one month after it was hit by the worst flooding in 17 years. Business in the province appeared to be slowly returning to normal, however, there were traces of the disaster the flooding had left behind. The cleanup was ongoing at a snail's pace which meant that murky water could still be seen almost everywhere. Rubbish, small items like plastic bags and big items like beds were still scattered in the middle of fields. It's not too difficult to imagine how such trash was swept away somewhere from the city by the floods.

Some villagers outside Muang district that I met have not been able to get back on their feet because their rice crops were destroyed, leaving them empty rice stock for next year. It will take a few more months to receive any compensation from the government.

Remember Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's frustration when facing the glut of complaints from flood victims about sluggish help from the state. He barked: "Wherever I go, people always ask for money!"

He then made a plea for public donations.

It's been more than a month now but our leader only just made the promise last week that the government would try to accelerate cash assistance disbursement.

The trip to Ubon Ratchathani gave me a strange impression. Our disaster was so small, compared to what Japan faced, yet as we know the situation in the Northeast was far worse because of mismanagement and lack of preparation as well as questionable development projects that resulted in a "man-made disaster".

Thailand is unique in that our leader can blame political enemies for such a disaster and is always ready for a war of words. During an inspection trip to Ubon Ratchathani, Gen Prayut lashed out at Pheu Thai MPs. Obviously he's frustrated. But his frustrations can hardly be compared to those of flood victims.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai


Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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