One of the important roles of political leaders is to plan and promote measures to ensure that the nation is better prepared against natural disasters and to limit potential damage to a minimum. Voters must hear the leadership contestants of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party discuss in depth their plans to tackle this political imperative.
Water-related disasters such as floods, storm surges and landslides caused 650 billion yen ($ 5.9 billion) in economic damage last year, the fourth highest sum in this category over the past 10 years, according to a preliminary estimate from the Ministry of Lands.
The total damage from water-related disasters in 2019, when devastating Typhoon No.19 struck, amounted to 2.18 trillion yen, and the figure for 2018 was 1.4 trillion yen. yen. It often happens that different parts of the country are affected by a new disaster while recovery efforts are underway in another affected area. The government must urgently address the country’s preparedness for a rapid succession of disasters by taking bold new measures.
The Suga administration last year announced plans to commit 15 trillion yen over five years to measures to improve the country’s resilience to disasters.
The spending program will fund efforts to improve the country’s preparedness against major earthquakes, renew aging infrastructure, and strengthen the disaster response functions of schools.
There is no doubt that continued spending is needed to meet the challenges of disasters. But any plan funded by taxpayer dollars must be carefully scrutinized to assess the necessity and cost-effectiveness of the programs involved.
Taro Kono, minister of administrative reform and one of the four candidates for the LDP presidential election on September 29, was in charge of disaster prevention and mitigation when areas of Kumamoto prefecture were struck by a series of massive earthquakes in 2016. In a book he wrote, Kono made some notable proposals, including a program to train experts in disaster risk management.
Another candidate, Fumio Kishida, former political leader of the PLD, said: “Japan will be the world leader in disaster damage prevention”, when he attended, as foreign minister, the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015.
The other two candidates, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, were responsible for responding to requests from local governments in disaster areas when they respectively held the post of Minister of Home Affairs and Communications. They have been involved in the Diet’s debate on legislation to support these areas during the process of developing budgets to fund aid and disaster relief.
All four applicants appear to consider disaster management based on their own experiences. But they did not come up with specific proposals to address the challenge in a broad perspective during the debates leading up to the elections.
The National Association of Governors called on the central government to reform the current mishmash of disaster-related laws and programs for different purposes, including the law to help disaster victims rebuild their livelihoods, the law on disaster relief and various financial assistance programs. The association called for a fair and integrated system to be put in place to address these issues.
The four candidates will have to specify their answers to these proposals.
A range of disaster risk management challenges, both urgent and longer term, need to be addressed. They include responses to the risk of large-scale flooding in areas around the three largest bays of Tokyo, Osaka and Ise, massive relocations of areas expected to be affected by a tsunami or major landslides, and measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in evacuation centers. .
Experts have long stressed the importance of creating an organization with integrated policy efforts to manage proactive disaster risk management, emergency response, and post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. But there has been no notable political initiative to establish such a body.
The LDP presidential debate scheduled for September 25 would focus on disaster prevention and mitigation. Candidates should speak candidly about their views on this issue, referring to the lessons they have learned from their past failed attempts to promote specific policy measures while holding key cabinet and party positions.
Natural disasters cause enormous human and financial losses and often lead to greater economic and social disparities. How to reduce the risk of disaster damage and protect the population is a vital political challenge that will test the new leader of the nation.
–L’Asahi Shimbun, September 25