BY SEBASTIAN PAVLOU
Japan continues to recover with relative speed from the triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown that devastated the country on March 11, 2011.
After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami tore through the country’s north-eastern coastal communities of Miyagi, Iwatu and Fukushima, at least 20,851 people died or remain missing. This figure includes the confirmed number of dead, 15,881, those who are missing, 2,668, and 2,303 others who died from disaster-related issues.
The crisis caused the displacement of some 400,000 people. It also destroyed 300,000 buildings and damaged a further one million. Reasonable estimates for direct economic loss from the earthquake and tsunami are around $275 billion with an additional $65 billion in damages as a result of the Fukushima nuclear plant incident. Indirect losses could be in the order of $185 to 345 billion across the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant.
After two years and a $260 million long-term budget funds, almost all of the 27.6 million tons of debris left behind after the crisis has been transported to areas for waste disposal (approx. 75%) or to permanent locations (approx. 20%). Various criticisms have been made concerning how reconstruction funds have been spent as only 10% of permanent housing for the region has been completed. Still, as Patrick Fuller of the Red Cross pointed out, Japan’s progress over one year compares to that achieved over three years in places like Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
Despite this crisis, the Japanese economy is recovering. It has in fact seen growth in this year’s first quarter while Japanese stocks are soaring and the yen has fallen, making the country’s exports highly competitive. Many attribute this to the new, bold three-pronged economic approach of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration. The centre-right Prime Minister of Japan, elected in December of 2012, has emphasized monetary and fiscal stimulus with, so far, successful results.