„The Great Wall of Japan – Will it Save Lives?“

On July 10 2014 Yoshiaki Kawata of Kansai University & Member of Central Disaster Prevention Council, Satoko Seino of Graduate School of Engineering, Kyushu University, and Akihiko Sugawara Founder of Kesennuma city Sea Wall Study Group, Chairman of Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce & Industry discussed „The Great Wall of Japan – Will it Save Lives?“ at a professional luncheon of the The Foreign Correspondents‘ Club of Japan
The March 2011 disaster triggered tsunami that killed or left missing about 19,000 people. It washed away villages, farms, towns and hundreds of thousands of homes. As residents of a country susceptible to quakes and tsunami, the survivors know that disaster will almost certainly strike again.
Japan’s government is putting its faith in a familiar solution: concrete. It plans to build hundreds of seawalls and breakers in the three worst-hit prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, at a total cost of about one trillion yen. Many more are planned. A joint 2012 report by the ministries of agriculture and land said that 14,000km of Japan’s 35,000km coastline requires tsunami protection.
But do seawalls work? The evidence is mixed. In the city of Kamaishi, a $1.6 billion breakwater listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest, crumbled on impact with the tsunami. Nearly 90 percent of the seawalls along the northeast coast suffered similar fates. Critics say they even made the impact of the deluge worse in many places.
Bizarrely, the land ministry admits the new structures are not even designed to withstand the sort of seismic event that occurred in 2011. That was a once-in-a-thousand-year event that nothing can block, the ministry says. A growing number of people are pushing for a rethink of plans to build so many huge concrete walls. Skeptics include Akie Abe, the prime minister’s wife. But they are finding it difficult to reach the critical mass needed to trigger a national debate.
The FCCJ has invited three experts to discuss the issue. Yoshiaki Kawata is one of Japan’s top experts in disaster management, having published more than 50 books on the subject. Satoko Seino is an expert in consensus building and participation in coastal-zone management. Akihiko Sugawara is a businessman who is working to rebuild Kesennuma, one of the hardest-hit cities in March 2011.
Christian Dimmer