Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disaster Again! This Time, Japan

There is something about being focused on the third sector that seems to awake our sense to what is going on in the world.  True, the news media, both print and electronic, are covering the disaster in Japan, just as it did when just over a year ago, a tremendous earthquake struck Haiti on 12 January 2010.  But, this time, we are faced with a triple disaster, in a country prone to experience earthquakes and tsunamis, from which we got the word.

Perhaps Japan is best prepared for these types of natural disasters, and yet, no country can really be prepared.  And as if that was not enough, Japan's Shinmoedake volcano on the other side of Japan from the epicenter of the earthquake erupts Sunday, 13 March 2011, just two days after the earthquake, spewing ash and rocks after weeks of inactivity.  Has anyone heard of this?  Yet, as reflected below, what has happened in Japan these past few days is not just a disaster; it is a calamity.

As if an earthquake and tsunami are not enough!  Here we combine the 9.0 earthquake with a tsunami, all to be complicated by a potential nuclear disaster as four nuclear power plants are damaged and in melt-down.  This in a country that experienced the death and destructive force of atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And yet, no sooner had the earthquake hit, with all the aftershocks, and another separate earthquake not far from Tokyo, than we were riveted with the pictures and video clips of the tsunami.

We have seen the effects of earthquakes before.  After all, in America, not far from our shores, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010.  In fact, this was followed by several earthquakes around the world, but none of them seemed to attract the attention of the earthquake in Haiti.  Beside, Japan is located on fault lines and is located on the Pacific Rim where the geology is such that earthquakes always present a potential danger.  And yet, as this chart shows, the catastrophic earthquake in Japan just a week ago in early March seemed to dwarf, in intensity, that earthquake on 12 January 2010 that hit Haiti and seemed to wake the earth up from is focus on economic problems around the world.

But, attention spans are short.  What we see on television hardly seems to match what we expect of reality.  We have been acclimated to action, violence, panic, crisis, and often destruction by what we see on video games, at the arcade, or on television.  And yet it is real, horribly real, but also so far away.  But, not so far away that the tsunami did not soon reach North and South America traveling across the Pacific Ocean at the speed of jet aircraft.  Only minor damage on the coast of Oregon and California.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on 14 March, just three days after the earthquake and tsunami, "Even while thousands of people are reported dead or missing, whole neighborhoods lie in ruins, and gas and oil fires rage out of control, press coverage of the Japanese earthquake has quickly settled on the troubles at two nuclear reactors as the center of the catastrophe."  And with that, a U.S. Congressman, a long-time opponent of nuclear power, warmed of "another Chernobyl," and predicted that the same thing will happen here.  He quickly called for immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor that had been laboring through the design review procedures at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the U.S. for seven years.

So, we soon seem to forget the earthquake and tsunami as something thought to be far more serious, and which starts the serious migration of people around Japan and ultimately off the island.  Indeed, it has been the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant south of Sendai and north of Tokyo that has caused so much attention around the world.  However, this attention, it seems to me, has not been so much focused on what the Japanese people are experiencing.  Rather, it is on what this means for nuclear power around the world generally, and about how far people can believe what their governments say.

While much of the attention in the United States has been focused on nuclear power plants close to fault lines that present some potential for earthquakes, it appears that the main cause of the disaster was the tsunami.  When the earthquake hit at such a huge magnitude, the affected reactors immediately shut down as they were designed to do, and emergency cooling operations began.  As I understand it, none of the reactors suffered damage that prevented the insertion of control rods.

When Fukushima-1 lost power, the backup diesel generators started up as they were expected to do.  However, an hour later, they were knocked out as a result of the tsunami.  Okay, the tsunami probably would not have hit the area had it not been for the earthquake.  Even with redundant safety systems, the power plants were not able to withstand the multiple traumas of this one-two punch of earthquake and tsunami.  Although there has been improvement in the actual situation in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, engineers as of 22 March 2011 have reconnected all six reactors to the electrical grid, but are not ready to turn the power on.

With radiation levels heightened, shipments of spinach and milk from the Fukushima area were halted, and  with elevated levels of iodine and cesium in the sea water, there are fears concerning the contamination spreading to the country's seafood which is now being monitored.  And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday, 22 March 2011, that it was halting the import of dairy and produce products from Japan from the area in which the Fukushima Daiichi plant is located and from which there has been some leakage of radiation.

The Japanese economy, already experiencing some stress, is reeling and three of its major companies, Sony, Toyota, and Honda, have stopped production at plants in Japan because of the shortage of parts from ruined factories in the north.

The truth is that it is hard to know how bad the meltdown at these nuclear reactors will be, even if the worse case scenario would be outcome.  No one predicts that it would be anything like the Chernobyl disaster, even if it were to be a little worse than Three Mile Island.

In the United States, nuclear power currently generates about 20 percent of the nation's electricity with its 102 commercial nuclear reactors, but faces an uncertain future.  No nuclear plants have been ordered since 1978 and more than 100 reactor projects have been canceled.  The Watts Bar 1 reactor on the Tennessee River ordered by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1970 and licensed to operate in 1996 is the most recently completed reactor in the U.S.  The main impediments to nuclear power in the U.S. are the high construction costs for nuclear power plants, public concern about nuclear safety and waste disposal, and regulatory compliance costs.

In Europe, nuclear power is much more common than it is in the United States.  As of January 2011, there were a total of 195 nuclear power plants in Europe and Russia, and 19 under construction.  Notwithstanding this, European public opinion is divided and a bit reticent toward nuclear energy.  In order to meet the Kyoto Protocol requirements for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, countries were finding it imperative to replace fossil fuel power plants with cleaner energy sources.  Nuclear power was one of the alternative possibilities.  If the European demand for electricity is to be satisfied, the EU cannot eliminate nuclear power as an energy source.  Moreover, developing countries, especially those with new nuclear capability, are not eager to give up the benefits of nuclear power which they believe is required for their demands for electricity to be satisfied.

But, since the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Germany's Angela Merkel decided to close temporarily seven plants and temporarily reversed the German government's decision on its extension of the life cycles of nuclear power plants, while five states controlled by the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) will challenge in Germany's highest court the government's previous decision to extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants.  France insists that it will continue to rely on nuclear energy to preserve the country's energy independence.

As one prominent American politician said several years ago, "we can't let a crisis go to waste, can we."  Just when some were seeing nuclear energy as part of the solution to energy and global warming challenges, along comes Fukushima Daiichi, and what has been called the worse accident since Chernobyl. However, we are told that with many nuclear power plants located along coastlines because as we are reminded by the disaster at Fukushima Daiiche, they are highly water intensive, natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, and tsunami are becoming more common, again because of climate change and global warming.  With the predicted rise in ocean levels as a result of climate change, seaside reactors become even more vulnerable to such disasters.

So with the increased costs of construction, the safety questions resulting from events like the Three Mile Island melt down, the disaster at Cherynobyl, and now the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, the question of disposal of nuclear waste, the debate is whether nuclear power is worth all these problems.  As we noted in the case of Fukushima Daiichi, the main danger seemed to be from the spent nuclear fuel rods stored in the pools of water as the water level diminished and steam evaporating was carrying the radiation out of the plant.  In the United States, the fuel rods used in the 104 nuclear power plants need to be replaced every three to five years.  About 80 percent of the 63,000 metric tons of used fuel in the U.S. is stored in these pools in or near nuclear plants. The water circulates to cool the rods down and it protects the environment from the radioactivity they emit.  If the water evaporates or drains from the pool, the rods are exposed and this is the problem the Japanese are experiencing at Fukushima Daiichi.

As I was reading The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday 22 March 2011, I was reminded of the recent movie, Departures.  When we read about these kinds of disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, or the flooding in Pakistan in the late summer and fall of 2010, and now this triple disaster in Japan within the last few weeks, we are overwhelmed and overtaken, I think, by the destructive power of the earthquake or tsunami and flooding, and by the numbers; the numbers of people who died because of the disaster, the number of people injured, the number of people unaccounted for; the number of people that are homeless, and the numbers that represent the cost of rescue, of finding and gathering of those that died, and the cost of rebuilding.  Oh, we see pictures of people crying, of calling out for help, of people who are desperate as a result of their situation, and who show that desperation on their faces.  But as Michael Hammer wrote in his blog post, Japan: making accountability for nuclear risk work into a progressive direction, on One World Trust website, "this live screening of events which spelled death to with some likelihood more than 10,000 people, and this may be grossly underestimated, reduced the even to a dehumanised story which benefited primarily the news channels."

The article, in The Wall Street Journal, focused our attention on something quite different, with the title, After Flood, Deaths Overpower Ritual.  Let me set the scene in Higashimatsushima, a coastal village near Senda in Miyagi prefecture:
   Improvised morgues across tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan are overwhelmed by the accumulation of the dead, forcing Japanese to consider a practice that hasn't been widespread for decades: burial.
   Nowhere, perhaps, is Japan's vein of conformity as apparent as it is in death: 99.9% of Japanese who passed away in fiscal 2009 were cremated, according to the country's health ministry.  But, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan's people, its industries and its environment have also eroded the certainty of how many thousands of Japanese will be laid to rest.
    In the worst-hit areas, local crematoriums can't incinerate the deceased fast enough to keep up with new arrivals.  There isn't enough Kerosene to burn the bodies, or dry ice to preserve them.  As the government's official toll of dead and missing has exceeded 21,000 people, governments of coastal villages are running out of time.
    Some local governments have started burying the dead in mass graves -- an extreme measure in Japan, where some municipalities ban even individual burials.  Some families are seeking to forestall group burials.  Some families are reported to have hauled away relatives to organize cremations on their own.
* * *
    "The prospect of pulling the deceased from under the rubble -- only to bury them again in soil, without even a coffin -- is just not something I am prepared to do," said Futoshi Toba, major of Rikuzentakata, a fishing village in Iwate prefecture.
But, as this article says, the issue of how to deal with the dead in natural disasters has grown controversial in recent years.  We all remember the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in which more than 225,000 people were killed, and which exposed authorities' lack of expertise and capacity to deal with that number of dead.  Do we really remember that part of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami story?

Which brings me back to the movie, Departures, a touching movie that reminds us of the importance of ceremony and Japanese tradition when dealing with the dead.

Departures is the story of a young cello musician, Daigo, who when the orchestra in which he plays is disbanded for lack of funding, moves back to his home town in the northwestern prefecture of Yamagata, which is just west of Sendai and .  Spotting a Help Wanted add in his local newspaper, he excitedly applies for a job in what he thinks is the travel industry.  He arrives at the office for the interview and spots coffins lined up against the wall.  During the interview he learns that what he got into was the ceremonial "encoffination" of corpses prior to cremation.  At first embarrassed by this new profession and unable to tell his wife that he is not working in the travel industry, at least as we think of it, Daigo "develops a deep respect for life in all its variations, and a profound empathy for people trying to make peace with the finality of death.
In some disasters, authorities have rushed to dispose of corpses -- often in mass graves the size of football fields -- "citing fears that the corpses could spread disease or damage the psyche of the survivors if left visible."  Global health officials say that there is little risk of epidemics spread by corpses after disasters, in part, because pathogens don't survive long in dead bodies.

However, the World Health Organization and others have produced "field manuals" in recent years strongly urging relief workers to avoid rapid disposal of bodies, which can create legal complications for families if they aren't able to identify the remains.

So back to Japan, and Higashimatsushima, the village on the coast in the Miyagi prefecture close to Sendai:

   On Monday, Higashimatsushima was preparing for its interim solution -- a grave they said could hold as many as 1000 bodies.  At the edge of town, next to a recycling center, construction-company workers dug holes with earth-moving equipment, hammering metal rods into the ground and placing plywood sheets that would serve as barriers between bodies.
   Officials in Higashimatsushima said that on Tuesday, they would start burying 80 of the bodies it is storing.  The burials in the grave -- two trenches nearly 300 feet long apiece -- are expected to be temporary, with plans to cremate the dead within two years.  The town will need the consent of family members before proceeding.
But, these officials acknowledged that families may be unwilling to bury their dead, but that they did not have any choice in many cases.

 One thing we have seen from Japan's record magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami on 11 March, with added complication and misery caused by the country's worse nuclear accident triggered by both the earthquake and tsunami, is the high degree of earthquake preparedness by Japan and limits to what the Japanese and international search and rescue teams can achieve in these circumstances.  While the figures may vary slightly as time passes, of the approximately 22,000 dead and missing, fewer than 100 died as a result of collapsing buildings.  Most of the casualties were from the tsunami.  As we saw in news reports in Washington, D.C. area concerning a local Virginia search and rescue team dispatched to Japan, very few people were rescued from the destroyed buildings, and the number of dead found in these destroyed buildings were few. 

Moreover, with well-trained Japanese search and rescue teams as well as the rapid deployment of the Japanese military personnel, little outside help was required.  Indeed, of the 128 countries and 33 international organizations offering assistance, the government of Japan only invited teams from 15 countries.  Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency that sent a team to Japan told IRIN that "Japan relies on its own resources because they are well-prepared.  Even though we have a lot of experience, Japanese rescue workers are better trained and better equipped."

Well, what does all of this have to do with charity and accountability?  According to news reports, the U.S. public was more generous after the Haiti earthquake a little more than a year ago.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on 17 March 2011 that:
Six days after the devastating earthquake and tsunamis in Japan, American donors have contributed more than $87-million for relief efforts, according to a Chronicle tally.  Nearly three-quarters of the total has been raised by one organization, the American Red Cross.
The rate of donations is slower than after last year's earthquake in Haiti and after 2005's Hurricane Katrina [in the Gulf Coast].  Six days after the disaster in Haiti, donors had contributed more than $210-million, and six days after Katrina they had given more than $457-million.
Why?  In one newspaper report in the U.S., it was reported that the president of the American Institute of Philanthropy told the television network, CNN, that "Japan is not Haiti, and it's not Indonesia; it's a developed country with a GDP somewhat similar to our country.  The executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, also told CNN that increased reliance on text and online donations could play a role.  "Giving online and text is good because it is fast, but text giving tends to lower what people would donate.  After giving $5 or $10 dollars [sic], you are probably less likely to go back and write a check for $50 or $100."

The Chronicle of Philanthropy article listed 24 organizations with the amount of money donated indicated, with separate identification of the amount of money donated by text message on mobile phones.  While only a few of these listed donations received through text messages, the amounts were generally not insignificant.  For example, the American Red Cross received approximately $64 million in the first six days, of which more than $2.8 million was contributed by text message.  Similarly, in the first six days, the Salvation Army received more than $2.5 million, of which more than $125,000 came in via text message and $2.3 million online.  On the other hand, Save the Children raised $5.8 million, of which $38,000 came in by text message.

The American Institute of Philanthropy, in a hot topics newsletter shortly after the earthquake and tsunami, wrote:
Many donors understandably feel an urgency to help victims of this disaster, but it may be wise to wait until charities assess what their role will be in these efforts.  As a wealthy industrialized nation, Japan has disaster response measures in place and its government and military will coordinate and provide much of the necessary relief.  The United Nations and the United States government are also mobilizing support for the relief effort in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific.
According to Oxfam-Japan Executive Director Akiko Mera, "The Japanese state has the means to reach 99% of the population, but there will always be some who need more specific assistance."  Since the government has the means to deal with the immediate crisis, donors may wish to wait and contribute to the groups that are able to assist with the intermediate and long-term needs of surviving victims.  Many people have been displaced or have lost their livelihoods.  Ongoing assistance will be required to relocate and retrain people, and also to provide psychological counseling for traumatized survivors.
On the day of the tsunami, the director of Emergency Response for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Gillian Dunn, issued the following statement: "Once we know more, including what the Japanese government requests from the international community, we'll be able to better assess a possible response.  Japan is well equipped as a responder, and this may be an instance where aid organizations are not asked to respond in large numbers.  We'll also have to see what tsunami damage might occur in other countries, including small Pacific islands."
Mail which I have received, both through normal postal routes and through email, and reports I have received all suggest that unlike Haiti, this is the pattern in Japan.  The Japanese Red Cross has not asked for financial assistance although other branches of the Red Cross have.  Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) made the decision not to proactively solicit restricted funds for Japan although it is working in Japan.  MSF has said that the need is Japan is not nearly as great as it was in the Haiti disaster.  Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote that while there was a lot of stuff that needed to be done in Japan, money is not a problem.  As a result, he wrote that people should donate to the general fund of an NGO, rather than to restricted accounts for Japan relief.

Perhaps a brief perspective might be helpful.  It might be argued that civil society in Asia, and in Japan specifically, is weaker than those of us in the West might expect.  It seems that most observers would agree that Japanese civil society has emerged from a position of relative weakness vis-a-vis the state.  Japan was typically viewed as a docile society, with people subservient to their corporations and government.  As Japan experienced unprecedented economic growth during the 1950s - 1970s, eventually becoming the second, or third now, largest economy, Japanese civil society remained largely quiet.  It was only in the 1980s, and especially in the early 1990s that Japanese grassroots groups such as NGOs emerged to play an active and important role in the political life in Japan.

As I have written previously, the term "civil society," has been used with considerable ambiguity.  See my posts, Alexis de Tocqueville and Civil Society and Government, Civil Society, Charity, and Public Benefit in November 2009.  Writers who have looked at civil society in Japan have defined civil society as the realm of organized social life that is voluntary, self-generating, largely self-supporting, autonomous from the state, and bound by a legal order or set of shared rules.  It is that intermediate realm between the private sphere and the state and excludes parochial society, such as family, and economic society, such as profit-making business firms.

For much of its history, and indeed modern history, "the lines between public and private, political and personal, formal and informal, official and non-official, government and market, legal and customary and between procedural and substantive are all blurred."  Whereas the political tradition of Europe and the West has been informed by a largely Christian ethic of "rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar's" providing some basis for state/civil society division of labor, the ideological component in Japan is quite different having been informed by a neo-Confucianism which are taken seriously by the state and by the citizenry where there is no identified space between the family and the state.

As a result, Japan's week civil society is derived from cultural aspects in Japan.  Three aspects of the Confucian tradition are important in this respect.  First, there is respect for hierarchy and authority.  Second, there is an emphasis on conformity to group interests rather than individual needs.  And, third, there is an emphasis on order and stability.  These values legitimized social hierarchy and state authority in Japan, emphasizing citizens' obligations and responsibilities rather than individual rights, and as a result, deterred challenges from citizens' organizations.

Another cultural aspect of Japanese society is Japan's lack of what we think of as the Christian tradition in the West.  Unlike Western and some developing countries, Japan does not have this Christian tradition based on volunteerism and charity.  Social welfare was provided by individuals and/or the state, not by churches.  As a result, the Japanese people relied on the state in times of difficulty.  Social welfare, although limited, was provided to the needy, albeit in a limited fashion mainly through incorporated associations under strict control of the state.

During the 1950s -1970s, civil society to the extent it existed in limited form, was governed by the Uniform Civil Code which was promulgated in 1896, and specifically Article 35 which provided for the establishment of profit-oriented organizations, but was silent with respect to non-profit bodies.  Such bodies were denied legitimacy and existed as informal groups.  Civil society, limited as it was, and allowed to emerge, was kept under the strict control of the bureaucracy.

The term, nongovermental organization, like the term, civil society, was conceptually vague, but as used in Japan, referred to nonprofit organizations in Japan engaged in overseas aid programs, such as development assistance and emergency relief.  By standard political science definitions, these were what we would call International NGOs or INGOs.  The term, nonprofit organization, or NPO, in contrast, referred only to nonprofit organizations engaged in domestic activities in Japan.  This distinction is important, and for our purposes helps to explain why so few NPOs outside Japan were involved in the relief efforts in Japan as a result of the 11 March 2011 Earthquake and tsunami, as well as which ones were able to participate in the charitable work in Japan.  Examples of this expansion of NGO activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s included the establishment of Save the Children Japan in 1986, followed by CARE Japan and World Vision.  In 1989, Greenpeace Japan was launched and in 1992, Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF), and 1999 Oxfam Japan.  These are some of the 13 outside groups that have been permitted to operate in Japan as part of the earthquake/tsunami relief, and which have raised money for that effort.

Public attention to civil society dramatically and abruptly surged in Japan in the wake of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Koby in January 1995 which took the lives of more that 6,400 people.  More than 1.3 million volunteers and a large number of NGOs converged on Koby to offer relief and assistance to the victims.  With so much sudden awareness on social capital and the value of volunteers and NPOs, the government and political parties sought to find ways to facilitate these volunteer activities.  Thus, the so-called NPO law (officially the Law to Promote Specified Nonprofit Activities) passed the Diet in March 1998 providing new impetus for further growth of civil society in Japan.

There are currently 440,000 CSOs that have obtained corporate status or government registration.  The religious corporations were the most prevalent with 183,000 followed by political, labor unions, small business cooperatives. registered NPOs, social welfare organizations, and the like.  There are an additional 300,000 neighborhood associations, most of which have questionable legal status.

An article, Civil Society in Japan, published in the journal of Inter Faculty, by the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan, one of the conclusions reported from the study was:
As a tradition has developed in pre-modern times, Japan has a thick layer of voluntary associational activities, with a history of human relationships with society that are based on trust.  With the Meiji Restoration after the defeat of World War II, while individual structures may have become disconnected, they also passed on a well-developed sense of organization.  Since he Meiji Restoration through the post-war growth era, Japan's goals have revolved around modernization stances that have focused on catching-up process.  Therefore, Japanese civil society has kept a developmentalist structure.
Maybe this is why we have seen such a difference between the relief efforts in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, and the relief efforts in the case of the Pakistan floods of July and August of 2010.

Now, our attention is diverted from Japan to some ill-defined war in Libya.  It seems that we have forgotten about earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific, although we continue with our periodic worries about radiation and what is going on at the Fukushima Daiiche Nuclear Power Station and how it affects public policy regarding nuclear power.

One lesson of which we might be reminded is that the decisions made on this side of the grave are the most important decisions anyone can make.

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