Belfast Telegraph

I've no doubt defiant Japan can arise from rubble again

By Sharon Owens

What a difference a day makes. Last Friday morning the world's media was focused on two things: Miss Catherine Middleton's £650 Burberry trench-coat and the civil war raging in Libya.

Then at approximately 4pm an offshore earthquake measuring 9.0 sent a devastating tidal wave crashing onto the north-east coast of Japan.

Within minutes entire fishing ports and bustling towns were completely obliterated, and thousands of citizens were either buried under mud or washed out to sea. At the time of writing two nuclear reactors were being cooled with sea water.

If and when the reactors cool down they will have to be decommissioned because salt water is corrosive to pipes.

But if any nation can recover from this "multi-hazard" natural disaster it's this great nation of 127m souls.

The Japanese are the most technologically savvy people on earth and I would also suggest they have the highest standards possible when it comes to good manners and social cohesion.

So I have no doubt there will be an orderly and dignified response to the colossal damage caused by the 10-metre high wave that travelled 10 miles inland along hundreds of miles of coastland.

First things first: Japan's nuclear power plants will have to be made safe, and energy may have to be rationed for some time to come.

Then there's the recovery, identification and burial of thousands of the dead. After that there'll be a clean-up of truly mind-blowing proportions and finally the re-building or re-location of millions of homes can begin.

Some people have asked why Japan has so many nuclear power plants, located as they are right on top of three adjoining tectonic plates.

Well, I imagine it might have something to do with Japan's massive population and their relatively small territory, and also, didn't experts used to claim that nuclear power was the cleanest and safest form of energy? The situation with the nuclear power stations is changing so rapidly it is impossible to predict what the the final outcome there will be.

As for the sheer amount of people living in areas susceptible to tidal waves, again, show me a country where nobody lives on a flood plain.

When the re-building begins perhaps those pretty wooden houses can be replaced with much sturdier concrete office and apartment blocks? Perhaps they could be built sideways-on to the ocean so that the next tsunami, if and when it comes, flows between and around the buildings rather than straight through and over the top of them?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing: perhaps if we'd had integrated education in Northern Ireland in the 1940s we'd never have had a shameful and brutal 40-year sectarian conflict? I've often said I've no interest in travel but, if there was one country that might tempt me onto a plane it's Japan.

I admire their good manners so much, and the way they respect their senior citizens and the way everything is so tidy. Who else noticed those precision-built poly-tunnels disappearing under a raging tide of black mud?

Or the cars and vans parked immaculately in the various towns and villages? Or the calmness of the people as they queued up to have their radiation levels monitored before going to spend the night in emergency shelters?

Who else noticed that little boat of pre-school children being rescued by Japanese troops, and not a single one of the gorgeous little tots in hysterics?

I don't mind admitting this columnist would have been incoherent with fear in similar conditions, but there they were in the boat, patiently waiting to be carried across the mud and debris to safety.

At times like this some people ask why God allows such suffering in the world. Not being a person of faith I have no such questions. I simply put my faith, as I always have, in the spirit and determination of the human race to survive and prosper and re-build and re-organise and keep going.

This time next year Japan may look very different. They already lead the way in building earthquake-proof sky-scrapers.

Maybe next year they will also be world-leaders in building tsunami-proof dwellings and survival shelters and wave-blocking walls and trenches. One thing I know for certain: Japan's young people won't be raiding their bank accounts and applying for emigration visas. They'll be staying put and getting involved in the recovery process. For when it comes to sheer patriotism the Japanese leave the rest of us in the halfpenny place.

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