Great East-Japan earthquake, tsunami remembered

By Maria K. SangYum 19 March 2023, 3:00PM

Nestled in the quiet hills of Tanumapua, a group of leaders from the Pacific and Asia regions, staying at Orator Hotel, came together to remember the catastrophic event that unfolded twelve years ago in Japan. 

The commemoration also marked the conclusion of a five-day training on Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction as part of the UNITAR Women’s Leadership in Tsunami-based Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). UNITAR is the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the dedicated training arm of the United Nations with its main headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. The programme is carried out under the Division for Prosperity, which operates out of its office in Hiroshima, Japan, located next to the Atomic-bomb Memorial Building and Peace Memorial Park. 

On March 11, 2011, the second strongest-ever recorded earthquake with a magnitude 9.0/9.1M rocked the northern part of the main Honshu Island of Japan. The epicentre of the undersea mega thrust earthquake located 130 km east of Sendai city triggered a tsunami that reached 40 meters at its highest. The earthquake was so strong it was felt in many parts of Japan including the capital of Tokyo. Participants of the Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction training programme observed a minute of silence at 2:46 pm, the time when the earthquake started. The event was to honour all the lives lost and affected by the tragic event.

It is the first time the UNITAR Women’s Leadership in Tsunami-based Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) has held a regional workshop in Samoa or the Pacific region. Since 2016, the programme has taken participants to Japan but was placed on hold following the COVID pandemic. Samoa was selected to host eighteen participants from nine countries in training and equipping future leaders from Asia and the Pacific. The programme aims to foster leaders and equip them with skills that will contribute to creating inclusive and resilient societies. The regional workshop brought together partners from Samoa as subject-matter experts to facilitate the training programme. 

The Ambassador of Japan to Samoa, Keisuke Senta, gave the official statement for the program, in which he opened with a Samoan proverb or alagaupu “O le tele o lima e māmā ai se avega”. This translates to “many hands will lighten the load”, in reference to the effectiveness of collective and inclusive action, which can be applied in DRR planning and also the inclusion of women in DRR decision-making.

The participants watched a documentary produced by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, NHK, which captured the events of the first three days of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. 

Japan-based non-government organisations, Retreat and Yappesu (translated Working together) joined the ceremony virtually. Representatives from both Yappesu, Yoshie Kaneko and Yosuke Takahashi, and Ms Talita Tuipulotu, of the Kingdom of Tonga, spoke on behalf of the UNITAR Leadership in DRR participants and encouraged Japan to continue in its efforts to address risk and emphasized the importance of women's participation.

The commemoration concluded with the awarding of certificates of completion for the 18 participants. Plans for the next UNITAR Women’s Leadership Training Programme are in discussion with the hopes of maintaining the in-person training in the Pacific region. 

• Maria K. SangYum is a PhD research student at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies at Kyoto University in Japan.

By Maria K. SangYum 19 March 2023, 3:00PM
Samoa Observer

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