Japan marks anniversary of deadly tsunami

Update: March, 12/2015 - 14:51
People pray before releasing balloons in the shape of doves during a memorial service for victims of the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster at the former Yuriage Junior High School in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture yesterday. — AFP/VNA Photo

TOKYO (VNS) — The Japanese imperial couple, prime minister and representatives of bereaved family members and international communities yesterday attended a memorial ceremony in Tokyo to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011.

A moment of silence was held at 2:46pm, the time the quake struck northeastern Japan.

The ceremony, held at the National Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, was attended by an estimated 1,100 people.

Addressing the ceremony, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe spoke about the lasting effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which claimed many precious lives and caused unprecedented damage to Japan's infrastructure.

"Even today, when I think of the despair of those who lost their beloved family members and friends in this disaster, I am overwhelmed with deep sorrow. Restoration and reconstruction have made progress, thanks to the efforts of local communities and regional institutions," he said.

At the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held on March 14-18 in Sendai city, Japan will lay out the current state of the reconstruction in the disaster-hit areas.

"We hope that our experiences will be useful in future disaster-prevention efforts around the world," Abe said.

"Steady progress can be seen in the construction of housing in upland areas and reconstruction is moving on to a new phase. Nevertheless, there are those who are unable to return to their homes as a result of the accident at the nuclear power plant and some 230,000 people still live uncomfortable and difficult lives," he said.

His remarks turned forward looking, promising that, "We will proceed with building a strong nation that is resistant to disasters and making unified efforts to utilise the latest knowledge to provide comprehensive disaster prevention measures."

Margareta Wahlstrum, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), who also attended the event, said, "The lessons from the tragic event have helped in the development of a robust new agreement on disaster risk reduction which will be adopted at the Third UN World Conference."

"Three years ago we marked the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami by launching the worldwide consultation process on a new agreement for disaster risk management to update the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted ten years ago in Kobe at the last world conference," she said.

"It will be a fitting tribute to all those who have lost their lives in disasters over the last ten years to have it adopted here in Sendai where thousands will gather this weekend to debate it."

The opening ceremony will be attended by the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the UN Secretary General, several heads of State and Government, and other dignitaries.

A key focus of the new framework for disaster risk reduction will be on reducing mortality and economic losses by agreeing on measures to reduce existing levels of risk and to avoid the creation of new ones.

The current text, which will be discussed at a Preparatory Committee meeting tomorrow, places a strong emphasis on tackling the underlying drivers of risk such as poverty, climate change, eco-system decline, bad urban planning, land use and risk governance.

The Emperor said he hoped that the conference will help spread the lessons of this disaster throughout Japan and the world, and achieve meaningful results in helping to reduce damage from such disasters.

The magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami left almost 20,000 people killed or missing, mostly from Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures along the coast, making it the nation's worst disaster since World War II.

Over the last ten years some 700,000 people have died in disaster events around the world, and 1.7 billion people have been affected and reported economic losses amounting to US$1.4 trillion. — VNS