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             Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 |


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Photo: AFP

For Japan We Feel

Shah Husain Imam

The first anniversary of the cataclysmic tsunami in Japan passed early this month. The various audiovisual replays of the human tragedy that struck the coasts and interiors of Japan just a year back revealed some very interesting information. When pieced together, they made a vivid and compelling portrayal of man's helplessness before the stupendous power of nature. It also brought memories of miraculous feats of survival when houses and installations were thrown up as toys, and matchboxes precariously floated on the surging, all engulfing seawaters.

Among many things that stand out, one that makes us sit up and take note in awe is the statistic that every person in Japan owns a mobile phone, and many of them have multiple ones. They not only experienced violence of the tidal waves but also saw the whole tsunami live on the mobile screen. This surpassed all kinds of horror stories, either written or filmed.

A ship entangled in a whirlpool caused by the tsunami in Japan.
An image depicting how well Japan has recovered ever since the tsunami. Photos: Courtesy

Hats off to the Japanese people again. A nation with an iron will blended with refinement had withstood the shocks of Nagasaki and Hiroshima to rise from the ashes of the World War II. The sheer mettle of the industrious and creative Japanese people transformed a war-ravaged country into an economic powerhouse under the stunned gaze of the world.

Then the country reached an economic threshold, compounded by a recurrent spate of political instability. And just when its economic status was ebbing with falling exports, the country came to be convulsed by the misfortune of a devastating fury of nature, worst perhaps in the country's long history of natural calamities. But one year on, Japan has recovered significantly with its dignity kept intact. The Fukusuma nuclear disaster, a ramification of the tsunami, added to the country's predicament. As radioactive materials were released, many people were forced to move out of their habitats into newer locations.

While other countries either build or reconstruct, Japan is always in a process of rebuilding, which again is something to marvel at, the forbearance and resilience of its people unmatched by perhaps any other country. Bangladesh without being self-pitying comes as a somewhat distant second.

Moreover, even when Japan's last ounce of economic prowess was tested, she did not cut back on its development assistance programmes for Bangladesh. JICA remains a steady friend of ours.

These effusive words are every bit deserved by Japan. Especially knowing that cheery words can do a world of good to a friend in need of emotional support, if not material help. Moreover, as a country often battered by cyclones and tidal bores, we have natural empathy towards climatically ravaged Land of the Rising Sun.

Compared to the Japanese pace of recovery, however, Bangladesh cuts a sorry figure. Even after three years of Aila and millions of dollars, courtesy NGOs and foreign governments, spent to rehabilitate the affected people, thousands in southwestern Bangladesh eke out a deplorable living. Come another cyclone, they will be finished.

Many are lamenting, some are shouting, while others are throwing their fists up in despair; yet, nothing is happening to help Aila victims to their feet.

Aila aftermath is a sore point in our disaster management track record and a national embarrassment. The disaster was a product of nature but the unalleviated aftermath is fully man-made. Lack of commitment, rampant corruption and incompetence in the implementation of relief and rehabilitation programmes have left the people in a completely abandoned state. Yet, no one has been held accountable, nor anyone punished for the misdeed or deliberate failure.

That put aside (if only grudgingly), the Japanese experience should warn us of our lack of preparedness against earthquakes. Sitting on tectonic plate fault lines, Bangladesh's vulnerability to earthquake of 7 on the Richter scale and above is rather pronounced. In the event of such an earthquake taking place, a majority of our high-rise buildings will be flattened with huge damages to human lives and property. We don't even see the standard civil defense drills. Volunteer corps will have to be formed as we procure the equipment for removal of rubble and carrying out rescue operations. It's a tall order but we must start meeting it in earnest.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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