Social Resilience: Learning From Hanshin and Tohoku

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:10 AM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Stephen LITTLE , The Asia Pacific Technology Network, Manchester, United Kingdom
Disasters inevitably expose social relationships and processes that in more normal times are harder to discern. The 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake inspired attempts to address the multilevel governance failures exposed by that disaster. However, neo-liberal narratives still focus on technical and individual responses at the expense of engagement with any broader social context.

In 1995 older buildings in low rent areas fared worst and poorer residents faced extended periods in temporary housing. In the 2011 Tohoku triple disaster buildings resisted a more severe earthquake but extensive tsunami protection measures failed. The third component of the disaster was exacerbated by institutional complacency in the administration of nuclear power.

The immediate mobilisation of defence force resources reflected lessons learnt in the hiatus following Hanshin. A flexible, combined military command structure developed to coordinate overseas humanitarian intervention was rapidly redirected to the co-ordination of domestic relief operations.

However, the focus remains on physical components of resilience even though technical interventions in the form of tsunami barriers actually eroded traditional aspects of social resilience such as nursery rhymes telling children to ‘go to the hills’.

Effective resilience requires a social dimension which in turn can only be developed in a bottom-up and inclusive fashion. Communities in the area affected by 3/11 created a range of short and medium term fixes for the loss of infrastructure and logistic support, the longer term response of formal governance structures is less clear. As the third component of the triple disaster resolutely fails to respond to remedial intervention, a continuing institutional hiatus becomes evident.

This paper draws on recent literature on ‘place branding’ and ‘place leadership’ to identify the creativity in national and international grass roots responses, not least in support of the recovery of identity and location, that offers cause for optimism.