Monday, 21 March 2011

Japanese tragedy

By Neil McCulloch

I’ve been trying to find the right words to write about the disaster in Japan.  Watching the pictures coming from Japan as it struggles with the triple crises of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergencies, has been, frankly, horrifying.  My heart goes out to the thousands of families who have lost loved ones, as well as the hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes and possessions, and are suffering from immense stress and anxiety in these uncertain times.  Some of IDS’s Japanese students have recently given their own personal reflections on the tragedy.  They have also responded, raising funds and working hard to provide assistance in whatever way they can.

There are of course broader lessons to learn from this tragedy.  IDS Fellow Terry Cannon has already written about how we can help countries to be better prepared for such disasters and better equipped to respond to them when they happen.  And the financial media have made much of the knock on impact of the nuclear disaster.  The emergency at Fukushima’s power plants has damaged the prospects of a resurgent nuclear industry worldwide, seen by some as a key contributor in the fight against global warming.  The result will be booming prices for coal and gas (see the Financial Times on this), and higher carbon emissions, as Japan likely reduces its 30 per cent dependence on nuclear energy and replaces this with thermal coal and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

On a more hopeful note, some economists have said that this disaster could mark the turning point at which the Japanese economy finally recovers from its long period of stagnation.  Certainly the actions of the Bank of Japan – which has injected more than $300 billion into the economy over the last few days – suggest that the huge sums needed for reconstruction may generate quite strong economic performance in the medium term.

But at root, this is a human tragedy. Two weeks ago I had lunch with a Professor from Tohoku University and his staff.  They were running a Masters in Human Security and were keen to explore links with IDS.  Tohoku is in Sendai, one of the worst hit cities.  I do not know if he and his staff are safe – I pray they are.  The university is closed whilst everyone focuses their energies on trying to deal with the unimaginable devastation.  So this is not a time for economists to make forecasts – this is a time for solidarity with the suffering people of Japan.

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