Thinking of Disasters
Former President, Nagoya University
President, Aichi Science & Technology Foundation
Chairperson, Board of Directors,Nagoya Urban Institute
Published:August 1, 2006
What people desire most in life is freedom from anxiety, peace of mind in a trustworthy environment, and life in a spiritually rich environment. Among the basic prerequisites for peace of mind are safety and security. Threats to safety and security fall into two categories:
1) The first involves artificial, intentionally created events, typified by war. The element differentiating such events as war from disaster is the presence of intent – in this case, to kill or injure the enemy. In contrast, damage caused by unilateral violence such as terrorism – one-sided violence against innocent people having no intent to fight – is qualified as a disaster.
2) The second category involves disasters caused by natural factors and, in the case of artificially created events, an element lacking intent and unexpected from the viewpoint of the state-of-the-art, inadvertently involving good will.
We are concerned here with the second rather than the first category. Typical of the first half of the second category are natural disasters. When I confronts natural disasters, I invariably encounter the cognition of a deeprooted principle, which is that Nature is beyond human elements. Despite the oft-stated saying that “Man shall impose mastery of Nature,” such a stance is far outside the envelope. Instead of such a stance, we should, if possible, make a plea to be loved by Nature, but surely this is a figment of human egoism. The best path for human beings to take is to do their utmost, seeking Nature’s understanding of our endeavors to be freed from the deadly penalties exacted by Nature.
The above path limits the basic method and way of thinking against natural disasters to “disaster mitigation.” Disaster mitigation roughly falls into two approaches. The first involves the construction of new structures or the improvement of existing ones, i.e., physical defense against natural elements. The human inability to predict the future – and natural disasters – prevents us from preparing everything against the disaster with this method, viz., “God only knows.” What we can do is to prepare for potential disaster probabilistically, constructing structures that, at least temporarily, mitigate maximum disaster. The second approach involves preparation of an “observational disaster-mitigation system.” In other words, predicting potential disasters prior to their actual occurrence by applying observations and knowledge from past disasters in order to mitigate damages, or constructing and implementing a “disaster-mitigation system” using all possible measures including evacuation before actual events attack residential area.
Regarding the occurrence of nonmalicious artificial events – the second category of threats to safety mentioned above – examples include the hazards caused by chemicals, food, and construction materials that are potentially lethal to those exposed to them. Man may not be perfect, being unable to in prepare completely against such suffering. It has occurred in the past and will surely occur in the future. For such disasters and their mitigation, we must clarify their effects from the viewpoint of human studies centering on law and ethics in addition to the technological viewpoint. In the case of marketing of new products and new technology, for example, it is natural that inspection from different angles should be made, and that doubled and tripled efforts be taken to avoid fatal damage such as loss of human life. Behind this, persons concerned must be aware that human beings – small existence compared to Nature – enter unknown world tremblingly.
It is excellent to inaugurate the accumulation of knowledge on disasters from as wide a viewpoint as possible, not restricting action to natural disasters alone. I express congratulations from my heart and look forward to reading many contributions on advanced achievements that may lead to peace of mind for people potentially affected by disasters and their mitigation.
Cite this article as:M. Matsuo, “Thinking of Disasters,” J. Disaster Res., Vol.1 No.1, pp. 6-7, 2006.Data files: