Today, 11 March 2021, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake that claimed close to 20,000 lives. On this solemn occasion, I pray for the repose of so many souls and express my heartfelt sympathy to those who lost their loved ones.

Ten years ago, when the Earthquake hit the North Eastern part of Japan, the people of Bhutan offered their prayers for people in thousands of kilometers away from their home. His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan, most kindly led a memorial service, and a large amount of relief donations was generously offered from Bhutan. Major temples all over Bhutan held simultaneous prayers for three consecutive days for the safety of people in devastated area. Prayer services and charity events held across Bhutan filled us with warmth and compassion. On behalf of the Government and the people of Japan, I would like to renew my heartfelt gratitude for these noble gestures.

I remember His Majesty’s address at the Diet of Japan 10 years ago by which all the Japanese people were moved and impressed. His Majesty stated “No nation or people should ever have to experience such suffering. And yet if there is one nation that can rise stronger and greater from such adversity – it is Japan and her People. Of this I am confident. On your path to rebuilding and restoring of lives, we the Bhutanese people stand with you – humble in our power to provide material assistance but heartfelt and true, in our friendship, solidarity and goodwill.” 

After 10 years, I am pleased to convey to the people of Bhutan that the efforts for the reconstruction of Tohoku region are steadily moving forward. The 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake are also the 10 years since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. As well as the decommissioning of the plant, where the safety is its top priority, the Fukushima Innovation Coast initiative has seen the creation of a world class new industry. “Fukushima Robot Test Field”, a facility to evaluate the performance of robots and drones used in infrastructure inspection and disaster response is a good example. “Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field”, one of the world’s largest demonstration facility to produce hydrogen from renewable energy sources on a large scale, is another. Fukushima, where His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Her Majesty the Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck so kindheartedly folded their hands in prayer for the victims of the disaster, is vibrantly re-emerging with these frontier industries.

I would like to introduce one example of the efforts for the reconstruction. It is about Onagawa, a town in Miyagi Prefecture, which has shown a notable rebirth. In December 2015, “Seapal-Pier Onagawa”, a new commercial centre, symbolically  opened. If you climb a hilltop, the calm blue sea can be panoramically seen over Seapal-Pier Onagawa. There are no tall tide walls blocking the view. This means that the residents are determined to continue living with the sea in the future as they have done for generations, despite the devastation they experienced.

They have chosen so not just because of nostalgia. Engineers of the Onagawa Town Hall had been surveying the town area as early as March 2011 to accurately identify the tsunami run-up points and land subsidence. This laid down the basis for an objective decision on infrastructure needs. The “Reconstruction Council of Onagawa”, formed a month after the disaster, with the participation of all local groups and business, was the other key driver to enhance the partnership between the citizens and the town hall, in drawing a reconstruction concept. In this process, Onagawa reaffirmed that the core of the town’s economy is the fisheries and related industries, and centred economic recovery in the reconstruction efforts. Thus, the concept of reconstruction, based on scientific evidence and a socio-economic approach with community participation, was finalized quickly. This minimized the time needed to rebuild the infrastructure and helped communities not be dissolved. Eliminating the need for tall tide walls, Onagawa retains the charm of the town living in harmony with the sea.

Onagawa also learnt from past disasters. In Kobe, the epicentre of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995, large-scale commercial facilities were built at an early stage to replace the burnt-down shopping arcade, but did not necessarily fulfill the business conditions or the needs of many shopkeepers. After hearing the voices of Kobe, Onagawa set out to rebuild with suitable size.

Now, Onagawa has been reborn vibrantly. Onagawa’s reconstruction has shown us what “Build Back Better” means, as conceptualized in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Their revival also demonstrated what inclusive resilience can deliver.

Having received immense kindness 10 years ago from Bhutan, Japan has been contributing towards strengthening disaster management capacity and building resilient infrastructure in Bhutan. Both our countries are disaster prone and Japan is keen to share our expertise learned from various disasters, including the Great East Japan Earthquake through our grant aid and technical assistance schemes. Here are some examples: A study on glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) was conducted, and followed by a project to improve flood forecasting and warning capacity, including GLOFs. Currently, a similar project has been expanded to the Thimphu and Paro river basins. For earthquake disaster mitigation, a project for the development of effective earthquake resistance guidelines for Bhutanese slab and masonry buildings is presently undergoing.

Japan is also supporting the construction of resilient infrastructure under the concept of “Quality Infrastructure”. While strengthening capacity to cope with the frequent slope collapses during the rainy season on Bhutan’s mountainous roads has been implemented, bridge replacements on National Highways 1 and 4 have been conducted. Keeping in view the high dependency of our society on ICT, resilience of telecommunication is becoming much more important. Japan has been supporting the formulation of a business continuity plan (BCP) of Bhutan Telecom and has transferred the knowledge of Japan in this process. At the same time, in order to ensure the stability of telecommunication, a plan for the development of an emergency mobile communications network for use in disasters is being promoted, through which, Bhutan’s telecom sector has been strengthened in terms of both software and hardware. Japan is willing to be engaged in such cooperative endeavors in Bhutan, in the coming years.

I cannot overemphasize how indebted we are to the people of Bhutan for their support and friendship at a time of our national crisis. We remain committed to working together for Bhutan’s aspirations towards disaster risk reduction and a resilient society. 

Contributed by

Satoshi Suzuki

Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan