Earthquake in a High-Tech Contemporary City
Since the end of the Meiji era, 1912, the Great Hanshin Earthquake was the eleventh earthquake that hit a large city claiming more than a thousand lives. 50 years separated the Great Hanshin Earthquake from the 1948 Fukui Earthquake, the 10th one in the series. In the eyes of nature, 50 years may seem to be an insignificant length of time, but it is different in the eyes of human beings. Cities have undergone tremendous changes in the last 50 years. Energy consumption increased, high rises were densely constructed and the use of high technology expanded. The daily lives of the city dwellers have become heavily dependent on technology. The number of vehicles in Japan, for example, which was approximately 200,000 at the time of Fukui Earthquake has increased to over 70 million by today -- there are approximately 2.7 million vehicles in Hyogo prefecture alone.
Damage Beyond The Imagination
It is said that the major characteristics of an earthquake which strikes a current high-tech city is its capacity to cause immense damage. In financial terms alone, a tremendous amount of donations were made all over the country for Hanshin. It was far bigger than that for Unzen where a 1990 volcano eruption claimed 44 lives, or that for Okushiri island where over 200 were killed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1993. The cost needed for restoration, however, was still 50 times greater than the amount collected. The extent of the damage wrought by the earthquake was far beyond human imagination. Such enormous damage can be attributed to the destruction of the technology which is integral to the function of a contemporary urban city.
Roads, ports, railroads, buildings, electricity, gas and water supply, as well as IT systems are the foundation of a city of today. High-tech cities have been generated through the past. As they develop, more technology systems are needed to sustain them. An earthquake, however, destroys them all together in a single strike.
The Great Hanshin Earthquake forcefully reminded us that our cities are not permanent.
The More A City Develops, the More Essential Disaster Risk Management Becomes
In a modern city, manufacturing and human activities involve extensive use of high technology. As a city develops, the dependency on technology grows and the possible damage in the case of disaster increases. Consequently, the more a city develops, the more important it becomes for a city to be prepared for a disaster, which should be the responsibility of the central and municipal governments.
The Great Hanshin Earthquake caused a total of 10 trillion yen worth of damage, which is equivalent to the Hyogo prefectural budget for six years. It was way beyond the capability of the prefectural government to bear but there was no monetary support provided by the national government. In the last century, earthquakes that cause substantial damage have been occurring every eight months on average in Japan. It should be recognized that the constant occurrence of earthquakes is unavoidable on a national scale. Furthermore, it is said that Japan has been entering into a period of seismic activity and earthquakes will increase in no doubt. Measures to respond to disasters should include emergency action, rescue plans, recovery plans, and support funds. There is a great need for comprehensive national measures to cope with a disaster.