About IEDP

About IEDP

The IEDP was established in 1999 by the IPSA at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. It is a student initiated, three-credit program that serves as a forum for students to discuss the challenges faced by developing economies. IEDP participants engage in a seven-week course in the winter semester, extensively studying the country of choice, and then take a one-week trip to the country over Spring Break. During the trip, IEDP students conduct extensive interviews and discussions with policymakers, members of civil society, foreign development agencies and university students. So far the IEDP has visited 11 countries, including Ethiopia, Cuba, Morocco, China, Costa Rica, Peru, Jordan, Senegal and the Philippines. The country of study for 2011 is Grenada, the first country from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in the IEDP's history.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

On March 11, 2011, a massive undersea megathrust earthquake hit the northern part of Japan, along with its pacific coast line.  It was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the forth largest earthquake since 1900, following the 1964 Chile Earthquake (M9.5), The 1964 Alaska (M9.1), and the 2004 Sumatra (M9.0).  The news was actually striking as it was just one week after we had come back to Ann Arbor from Grenada and started working on the final report for the IEDP as the Disaster Management Group.

It was rather a convoluted crisis as the tsunami has disabled emergency generators to cool down the reactors of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and led to a partial nuclear meltdown, visible explosions, and radiation releases.  The Government of Japan and TEPCO are working on the series of accidents in the Plant; the accidents themselves has become an agenda of emergency in the international community.  Despite of this element, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami were one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in our history.

News reports initially addressed the patience, endurance, and preparation of residents of the affected areas.  Such resilience that Japanese has shown might surprise and strike those who know about the earthquake.  Through our trip in Grenada, the Disaster Management group often come across the term, "community resilience."  This seems to the foundational concept for its national disaster management for the Government of Grenada (or the National Disaster Management Authority).  The strength of community (families, schools, churches, and even social media) complement the government emergency response.

Meanwhile, after two weeks have passed, Japanese media has started to report on uneven distribution of basic supplies across the affected area and the bottleneck of logistics.  As land transpirations, the Pacific-round from Tokyo Metropolitan Area, were impacted and there was a difficulty in access from the East Japan Sea bound,  it has limited the capability to supply foods, waters, gasoline, and even volunteers.  After evacuating their community and settle to an evacuation center, people are getting frustrated and stressed.  Especially, those who have limited or no access to these supplies as well as those vulnerable, including aged persons, suffer severely and face the danger of death.  The circumstance in Grenada seems to be slight different; as it is a small island, one area can be reached either east or west bound; that is an advantage.

Another takeaway from the earthquake in Japan would be that there is a possibility that each of communities may lose its pivotal center or leadership by a natural disaster.  Local government officials, including a city mayor, perished in the earthquake/some of city offices are also totally destroyed.  Without a leadership role in community-level response, how remaining members respond to the crisis would be a critical for a successful emergency response.   So, how to assure collective actions in a crisis through bottom-up cooperation among community members and leadership development/empowerment would be a key area that the Government needs to tackle continuously.

The most common impression to this earthquake is "this was totally unexpected disaster."  Local governments had developed sophisticated disaster-proof infrastructures; the scale and impact of the earthquake and tsunami were totally above the assumption and calculation.  Emergency preparedness is based on vulnerability and risk analyses; it would be the process to prepare for what you expect.   The most important thing is rather to prepare for what you don't expect to happen.  Strong community tie might create secure feeling and enable individuals to act calmly during such a devastating crisis; or, a series of practices help them to do so.  I would say such socio-psychological aspects need to be incorporated into emergency preparedness planning, along with emergency response and recovery.

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