The Kobe earthquake commemorated its tenth anniversary only 14 months ago. The Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, the most disastrous earthquake in Japan's recent history, has commonalities with the more recent natural disaster of the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast. Now, half a year after the hurricane devastation, two professors from Japan spoke about what could be learned from the reconstruction of Kobe and applied to the rebuilding of New Orleans.
In a lecture entitled "Rebuilding New Orleans: Lessons from Kobe," Dr. Haruo Hayashi, a professor at Kyoto University and Chairman of the Kyoto University Disaster Prevention Research Institute, and Dr. Shigeo Tatsuki, Professor of Sociology at Doshisha University and Senior Research Scientist at the Disaster Reduction & Human Renovation Institute, spoke about the recovery and reconstruction of Kobe. They discussed both material factors such as urban planning and finance, and intangible factors such as societal interaction and psychological sense of normalcy.
Hayashi began the lecture by discussing the strategies for holistic recovery. He first touched upon Hurricane Katrina, where "two disasters occurred in conjunction with each other," Hayashi said. The first was the hurricane, a Category 5 disaster which hit the Gulf Coast, but the other was the unexpected levee breach in New Orleans. It was the levee breach that had flooded 80% of the city and caused fire, civil unrest and the deaths of more than 880 people.
The fact that there was an unexpected second disaster is a similarity New Orleans shared with the Kobe earthquake, Hayashi said. Hayashi compared the earthquake in Kobe to that of Northridge, Calif., which struck on January 17, 1994. Happening exactly a year before Kobe, which had a magnitude of 6.9, the Northridge earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8. But the aftermath was entirely different: Northridge had a casualty of 57 people and a total property loss of 42 billion USD, while 6,433 people died in Kobe, with a total property loss of more than 150 billion USD.
"The main difference was that we [Kobe] had 3.5 million people living right on the earthquake fault," Hayashi explained. The Kobe earthquake had lasted only 10 seconds, and the majority of people died because of building collapses.
There are three goals to the Kobe recovery plan, which is continuing even now: physical, economic, and life recovery. These are integrated with each other: physical recovery such as the redevelopment of destructed cities becomes a tool for economic recovery, which in turn helps life recovery such as assistance to disaster victims.
Physical recovery was a success: it was completed in five years, with quick debris removal and restoration of infrastructure. Longer-term plans such as construction of safe buildings and wise land-use planning were executed swiftly as well, benefiting from a two-year moratorium the mayor of Kobe had announced for the first two months after the earthquake.
There were problems with economic recovery, however, such as an over-reliance on public spending, with little initiative for new economic developments. With the government as the only risk-taker, customers did not wait for recovery and Tokyo received the major contracts, killing local small businesses. Kobe had been the busiest port in Japan before the earthquake, but has not since returned to that position.
"Life recovery" is an elusive term referring to personal and family recovery. In a survey, victims of the earthquake revealed that there may be at least seven elements that must be fulfilled in order for them to feel that they have recovered: housing, maintaining existing social network and/or creating new ones in case of forced relocation, having proper land use plan and/or townscape regulations, improving disaster mitigation levels, mental and physical health, securing enough income and work, and governmental assistance.
Eleven years after the earthquake, Hayashi said, there is still much to do: assistance for major industries and small business, and individual assistance for victims are yet to be completed. But "we learned that structural mitigation really worked to reduce damages, and that long-term recovery management became an important new issue for disaster communities," Hayashi said. "The planning process should be participatory; everybody should join. It was very hectic for Kobe to accommodate people's wishes, but the result was a really good outcome," Hayashi said.
Following this comment, Shigeo Tatsuki took over the lecture, discussing the role of civil society and human networks for long-term life recovery after the Kobe earthquake. Tatsuki moved the audience by opening his lecture with two videos: both showed houses burning, but while the first was flooded with the sound of fire engines as well as the panicked cries of the shooter of the film, the second was silent save for the noise of residence walls and roofs burning and crumbling. "We have to just let houses burn--that's what a disaster is. It's different from a crisis, which can be dealt with. A catastrophe is when you just hear houses burning," Tatsuki said.
To illustrate the importance of cooperation among people, Tatsuki focused on the north Noda district of Kobe, where 220 houses burned down (the death toll was 41). Members of the Noda community held land readjustment meetings where, instead of rebuilding their houses in the same size as before, everyone reached the consensus to give up a certain percentage of their own land to create wider roads. "Wider roads not only facilitate daily life, but in case of emergencies, make it easier for people to take refuge," Tatsuki said. The result was not only roads that were more accessible but a change in the entire townscape, with parks and other efforts to make the community more beautiful and appealing.
Tatsuki then touched upon some theories of sociology, and said that those who placed more emphasis on community solidarity rather than self-governance, as well as people who were able to change what they experienced in the earthquake to positive appraisal, had the highest sense of life recovery.
"Before the earthquake, people thought there were only two sectors of society: public (or government) and private. But society is now thought to have three sectors: public, private and civil society," Tatsuki said. 1.3 million people came to the earthquake site to help with the relief and recovery efforts, and this precipitated the concept of civil society. "The disaster itself is really unfortunate, but it gave a positive impact on society," he concluded.
The lecture was attended by personnel of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other members of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as an architecture class of Catholic University. Before returning to Japan, Hayashi and Tatsuki gave the same lecture in New Orleans on March 22, at the New Orleans Harbor Department.