Last week, record-breaking torrential rainfalls caused floods and landslides forcing millions to evacuate their households in western Japan. Japan’s Ministry of Health estimated that the disaster left at least 209 people killed, 5,900 people temporarily sheltered, and 37 missing. More than a week later, Japanese have gradually returned to their destroyed homes while more than 200,000 households remain without running water.
Massive rainfalls swept across western Japan hitting 15 Japanese prefectures last week. Amongst the ones hit the hardest, Hiroshima prefecture experienced a death poll of at least 91 people while Okayama and Ehime prefectures saw at least 61 people dead. Several cities within Okayama prefecture experienced floods covering 30% of their total areas while nationwide, 10,000 homes were partially or entirely destroyed due to the floods and landslides.
While such strong rainfalls were unprecedented in the region in the past 30 years, disaster experts agree that such rains will become more frequent due to climate change and global warming: “The government is just starting to realize that it needs to take steps to mitigate the impact of global warming,” said Takashi Okuma, a professor at Niigata University. Therefore, it becomes even more essential to spread risk awareness of floods and landslides within Japanese municipalities.
So far, municipalities in Japan have been required to create and publish “hazard maps” which display the risks of flooding and landslides. In fact, by 2013, 95% of Japanese municipalities had produced such maps for floods while 81% produced maps for landslides – according to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Yet, many homes in Japan and especially in Okayama were built in risky areas such as flood- or landslide-prone areas. Also, the government of Okayama prefecture had no legally required maintenance plans for the three rivers where water surmounted the riverbanks – potentially causing the death toll to rise. The Okayama government has admitted that it was at fault and stated that: “Such plans are necessary as countermeasures against flooding and should’ve been worked out earlier,”.
Many Japanese people were submerged by water on the rooftops of their houses. Since the disaster struck, Japanese Self-Defense Forces, firefighters, and rescue teams have been working against time to rescue entrapped people, search through debris for survivors, and re-establish evaporated water, sewer, and supply systems.
Also today, on June 14th, thousands of volunteers have arrived in flood-hit areas to help residents clean up streets, houses, and accumulated debris according to the Mainichi Japan. Especially, Hiroshima, Ehime, and Okayama expect around 18,000 volunteers from across the country over the next days to help the disaster-struck victims with their clean-ups. Accordingly, the Japan National Council of Social Welfare has reported that there have been 40 volunteer management centres set up across those three prefectures. Though, more needs to be done.
Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. While it is prepared for earthquakes through quake-proof buildings, Japan has done little on potential flooding and landslides. Nevertheless, Japan is a mountainous country and therefore, it is vulnerable to floods and landslides. While Japan has implemented early warning systems and monitors weather conditions, there is still a long way to go to retain water, control floods, and minimalise the chances of landslides.