By Yuki Matsuoka
SENDAI, 9 October 2012 - UNISDR today recognized Sendai, the largest city in Japan's tsunami-struck region of Tohoku, as a role model for the Making Cities Resilient Campaign for "promoting community-based disaster risk reduction and empowering people to act on disaster risk reduction."
Following the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011, Sendai stood out for its quick restoration of vital functions such as utilities, damaged roads, homes and also the clearance of debris. This was done in 18 months and always via open communication with citizens.
UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström today presented the Mayor of Sendai, Erniko Okuyama, with a certificate of recognition and emphasized how important political leadership was in building resilience to disasters.
"If we have learned one thing from the Making Cities Resilient Campaign it is the importance of political leadership in seizing the initiative and taking steps to protect the community and its assets. The Mayor of Sendai is the living proof of how important it is that individuals in authority drive the resilience agenda.
"Sendai's recovery from the tsunami is a remarkable achievement. The memory of the tragedy will live on but there is hope for the future and that hope rests in the empowerment of Sendai's citizens to play a full role in the recovery effort and on-going disaster risk reduction efforts."
Ms. Wahlström is on a three-day visit including attendance at the Sendai Dialogue on lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The event is part of the 2012 IMF-World Bank Group Annual Meeting, and is co-hosted by the Japanese Government and the Bank.
Sendai drafted early recovery guidelines immediately after the disaster and formulated a Sendai City Earthquake Disaster Reconstruction Plan in November last year.
Mayor Okuyama said the plan focuses on disaster reduction via wide-scale disaster prevention construction, new energy sources, flexible as well as stronger architectural standards, and improving areas that were the most vulnerable during the disaster.
The 2011 tsunami interrupted vital city utilities, impeding Sendai's ability to obtain fuel, which impeded early recovery efforts in disaster affected areas, said the mayor.
"It wasn't just citizens who were adversely affected by the disaster. People commuting for work and tourists were forced to flee to refugee areas. There were various difficulties in managing refugee areas, providing support to disaster afflicted people and providing information about the disaster.
"As we recognize the importance of the smooth management of refugee areas and improving their capabilities, we will stock adequate emergency supplies and install solar power generators which will allow us to secure energy at the time of a disaster. To achieve these aims, we must work closely with local communities," Mayor Okuyama stated.
She explained that following the disaster, housing was rebuilt with careful consideration for both the location of residential areas, and where building should be restricted. The city invested in elevated roads and added special tsunami evacuation roadways and evacuation facilities.
Mayor Okuyama said the city sought the cooperation of non-profit organizations and local industries to increase the disaster awareness of citizens. "We think it's important for our entire community to promote disaster prevention awareness in order to cultivate future community leaders; and educate students through informational sessions on disaster prevention at schools."
Sendai conducts evacuation training at all elementary and junior high schools within the city, and conducts prevention and preparedness training in local communities.
"We clearly see the benefits of efforts to strengthen buildings and disaster prevention training. This preparation coupled with 'Power of the People' and the bonds between people in local areas, were instrumental in overcoming this most grave situation," Mayor Okuyama stated in her letter of application for Sendai to become a role model city.
Accepting the certificate of recognition, Okuyama expressed appreciation for global support extended after the Great East Japan Earthquake, adding: "We hope our experiences and the lessons learned will help the other cities around the world in their own disaster prevention".
Since 2010, UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign has grown to 1,100 participating cities worldwide and 30 role models in areas ranging from cultural heritage protection to grassroots disaster management.
Two 2nd year High School students from Sendai Dai-Ichi spoke at the opening of the Sendai Dialogue, Rina Iwamoto, and Risa Shibahara, and presented their experiences of surviving the tsunami. Risa pointed that she was alive because her neighbours knocked on the door to warn her that the tsunami was coming.