Disseminating Knowledge for Reducing Disaster Damage
Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University
Tsunami Engineering Laboratory, International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University, Japan
Natural disasters occur where natural phenomena and human society meet. Disaster impact differs in form and scale – even when the natural external forces are the same – depending on the way of society. Our knowledge of natural forces is also limited, making it much difficult to interpret disasters.
In areas of frequent disasters, knowledge about highly vulnerable areas is passed as wisdom for the generations, and local residents know how to live safest. Living in disaster-prone areas puts residents at risk, but such areas often bring notable benefits to residents, so they have learned and devised wisdom to adapt to nature’s force.
With disaster-resistant structures being more widely constructed and disaster experience decreasing, however, the local population has grown as new residents arrive, and local generational wisdom has often been lost.
Simeulue Island, Indonesia, is a good example of how the transmission of local wisdom has minimized disaster damage. In the great 1907 tsunami, for example, several thousand of the island’s residents died and this experience of “a tsunami following an earthquake” has been handed down in lullabies, stories, and epics. Thanks to this wisdom, the death toll from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was just one out of a population of 78,000. This wisdom has been limited to this island geographically, however, rather than shared with neighboring islands.
One basic principle for mitigating disaster damage is to share local wisdom world-wide – not limit it to local geographical areas. This requires stable nucleus to collect and disseminate such knowledge widely. The Journal of Disaster Research (JDR) has served this role for the last decade as it has grown.
Human beings are forgetful creatures, so however much they may want to avoid major disasters after they happen – up to eight years or so, this wisdom rarely lasts longer than a decade. Fifteen years later, disasters are largely forgotten and preparation is no longer seen as urgent.
How can we prevent this? It is my great hope that the JDR will continue to help prevent such oblivion and continue as a nucleus for disaster reduction in the decades ahead and further in the future.
Nobuo Shuto May 22, 2015