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Haiti and Japan’s Earthquake Comparative Analysis

Comparison of the pre-disaster and post-disaster development conditions and challenges in the Japan and Haiti

A study of the two disasters from the pre-disaster to the post-disaster recovery period is a clear signal that there are great variations in the level of preparedness and response to disasters between the two countries. This, in turn, brings out the issue of poverty and capacity to respond to and mitigate disasters through the development of resilient structures. When comparing Haiti with Japan, it is expected that the pace and intensity of response to disasters is quite higher in Japan than it is in Haiti. A comparison of the real issues concerning the earthquakes in the two countries denotes differences in terms of the scale of the earthquakes and the variation in terms of the responses to the earthquakes (Alexander, Mikhail and Oleg 1-2). Capacity and ability to predict the hazard and the ability to respond were critical factors in the two disasters and determined the course of events in the entire phases of these disasters. The other thing is that the two countries anticipated the hazards.

According to Brookings Institution (16), natural hazards do not automatically result in disasters. However, the culmination of the natural hazard, like an earthquake, into a disaster or the failure of the natural hazard to turn into a disaster depends on a number of things. These are the structures of the community in which the hazards strike. These include the political system of the community, social capital, social stability, the level of preparedness, and the level of response following the hazard. To be concise here, Japan is rated higher when it comes to the development of the structures that constitute resilience. On the contrary, Haiti is ranked quite low in terms of development. According to the UN Human Development Index, Haiti is ranked among the lowest countries at position 145 in 169 countries (Disasters Emergency Committee par. 1), an indicator of poor structures and lack of capacity to predict and absorb the shocks and devastation that are caused by earthquakes.

As a developed country, Japan had a sound development base with physical structures that have been built using advanced technology. Japan observes the building codes that are resilient to the earthquake shocks that come from the movement of seismic waves. Japan has a GDP of about $4.4 trillion and a low unemployment rate of 4.2% (2013 Index of Economic Freedom par. 1). To add to that, the country has a performing economy and better structures of administration that have ensured that the capacity to mitigate any hazards. This is why the country did not depend on external support and intervention because it had already activated its internal structures in response to the earthquake (Hayward 2-3). Capacity, which is denoted by the present of highly developed structures of administration, worked positively for Japan by helping the government to be in control of the devastation.

In the case of Haiti, it can be argued that the country did not have adequate preparedness due to the poor state of development, thus denoting a lower level of resilience and capacity to predict the dangers of the earthquake and respond to the effects. Here, it is evident that Haiti had poor structures, which denoted lack of adequate capacity to respond. The country was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the earthquake and it entirely depended on external intervention due to the fragile structures of governance. The scale of devastation in the two countries justifies the observation. The post-disaster recovery efforts in Japan were largely steered by the government, while such efforts in Haiti were placed under the control of international humanitarian bodies (Brookings Institution (17 -18).

The impact of the post-disaster response on addressing both pre- and post-disaster development conditions and challenges

According to Hayward (3), the ability of nations to respond to hazards effectively, like in the case of the two earthquakes, depends on the preparation and mitigation policies that are advanced by those in authority. Moreover, the level of the efficiency of activities in the post-disaster recovery and reconstruction largely depends on the preparedness and the nature of response plans that are set and activated during the disaster impact phase.

According to Mutter (71), the magnitude of the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 was quite high at 9.0 magnitude scale compared to the 7.0 magnitude of the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. However, a comparison of the response reveals that Japan has almost attained full reconstruction, despite incurring losses amounting to 300 billion dollars, while Haiti whose losses only amounted to approximately 10 billion dollars is still struggling to attain full recovery and reconstruction three years down the lane. These variations are all rooted in the response strategies of the two countries (Mutter 17).

Principle actors in the Japan’s 2011 earthquake and the Haiti’s 2010 earthquake response

A closer look into the two disasters reveals the participation of national actors and international actors in mitigating the effects of the earthquake. However, there are significant variations in the rate at which the two countries responded to the disasters. Significant variations in the responses are evident in the roles that were played by the national actors and the roles that were played by the international actors. According to Carafano (2), disaster response in the context of the high impact disasters entails the full involvement of the government, the private sector, communities, individuals, non-governmental organizations, and volunteers. However, the chief responder to any national disaster occurring within the national boundaries is the government. In the case of Japan, it can be argued that the government was well prepared as it ensured a massive and speedy response to the earthquake. Japan’s Premier took charge of the response to the earthquake disaster a few moments after the disaster occurred. Only about 15,833 people died, compared to more than 200,000 people who died in Haiti (Thomson Reuters Foundation par. 1).

Therefore, it is worthwhile to argue that the government of Japan was actively represented and involved in every response activity only a day after the earthquake struck. Among the responders from the government side were the military, the police, as well as the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. There was also a high degree of coordination fostered by the government, the Japanese Red Cross, and the Japan Civil Network for Disaster Relief in Eastern Japan, which was the chief coordinating body for all the three hundred organizations and agencies that were taking part in disaster response (Carafano 2-3). The government of Japan immediately allocated $50 billion for the response efforts. The high level of coordination of the actors enabled the restoration of the transport network into the most devastated regions (The Heritage Foundation par. 2).

Similar players were reported in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake where the government was at the forefront highly supported by the United Nations Organization disaster response agencies. In Haiti, the fragility of the governance structures resulted in active participation of the external stakeholders more than the government of Haiti. In this case it can be argued that the government did not have the capacity to respond or coordinate the response efforts effectively (White and Lang 10). Therefore, the level of impacts multiplied due to the absence of basic structures of response and recovery.

Response strategies in the case of the two disasters

First of all, research reports denote that the earthquake in Japan was marked by a high level of supply of the requirements from the government, with only a little logistical help being demanded from the external stakeholders (White and Lang 11). One of the key strategies that were critical in the response phase of the disaster in Japan was the presence of a disaster preparedness plan owing to a series of other disasters of such nature that had occurred in the country before. To add to that, each level of government in Japan, for instance the municipal level, was responsible for facilitating the response efforts that were rolled out by the central government. Such pointers support the argument that coordination was a critical consideration in the response and recovery phases of the Japan’s earthquake disaster (International Recovery Platform 3-4).

The government of Japan had set aside funds that were critical in the immediate response. Besides this, there was equipping of the government response teams and the embrace of the factor of coordination. Things were different when it comes to the Haiti earthquake where most of the roles of coordination were left to external bodies. Moreover, there was inadequate preparedness and lack of coordination in the first stages of response. (White and Lang 10-12). The post disaster recovery landscape in the country denoted the lack of adequate and effective policies by the Haitian government, yet such policies were critical in speeding up the response efforts and recovery (Sontag par. 3).

Relative comparison of the political and economic states of Haiti and Japan in line with post disaster relief policies imposed by foreign actors

One of the critical factors when it comes to mitigating disasters is the intense involvement of the internal players, in this case the government, in preparing and responding to disasters. Research denotes high levels of variation between the nature of the response that was witnessed in the Haiti earthquake and the Japan earthquake and the build up to the post disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction in the two countries. According to Bill Clinton, the special envoy of the United States in Haiti, the number of non-governmental organizations operating in the country following the 2010 earthquake disaster ranged from three thousand to ten thousand. Comparing this with the number of non-governmental organizations that were operating in Japan following the 2011 earthquake, it can be argued that the number was indeed overwhelming, thus making the country appear as a breeding ground for foreign dominance and control. Moreover, reports about the undermining of the government by the non-governmental organizations, particularly the organizations that fund projects in the country, often came out in the media (Kristoff and Panarelli 1).

Most people observe that the entire disaster period in the case of the Haiti earthquake disaster was taken over by the external actors. However, Japan’s earthquake disaster depicts a different picture when it comes to the emergency period and the long–term relief, recovery, and reconstruction efforts. The observation finds backing from the high involvement of the government of Japan through the different government departments that saw the role of the external or foreign stakeholders only coming secondary to the activities that had been already launched by the government. Thus, the question that comes into mind at this juncture concerns the issue of response. At what levels are foreign players supposed to be incorporated in the entire phase of disaster response? Also, the other question that needs to be answered here concerns the factors that contribute to the active control of national emergencies by foreign players. These questions relate to the argument that foreign actors took over the relief efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which was a different case when it came to the Japan earthquake.

According to Gauthier and Moita (1), Haiti is one of the weakest states in the world, meaning that the country has poor and weak structures of economy. The state of welfare in the country is quite low, a factor that makes it difficult for the country to concentrate on programs of recovery when in real sense it is struggling to feed its citizens. The weak political, economic, and social structures in Haiti were some of the factors that promoted the direct participation of foreign actors in disaster response, relief, and reconstruction that are still going on in the country up-to-date (Daumerie and Hardee 1-2). At least 500,000 people are still displaced in Haiti today, more than 2 years since the disaster (Thomson Reuters Foundation par. 5).

Among the foreign actors that were directly involved in disaster intervention in Haiti include the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations Organization through its various agencies. The United States and the European Union supported the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination. Owing to capacity related problems, the government of Haiti was not in a good position to coordinate the relief efforts in the country. This led to the direct participation of the foreign actors in restoring normalcy in the country after the disaster. The funding mechanisms and the establishment of different programs to aid in the reconstruction of the country are still largely upheld by the foreign players, predominantly the United States and the European Union (Brattberg and Mark, “Actors and Effectiveness” 361-366). When there is no capacity, a vacuum often prevails in the entire stages of the disaster such as the case of Haiti where foreign players come in to fill the vacuum in disaster management.

A substantial number of commentators point to the fact that Haiti gave a room for other countries in the world, the so called foreign actors, in disaster intervention across the world to hijack and take full control of the entire process of disaster relief and reconstruction. To this effect, the United States and the European Union have taken full control of the decision making environment when it comes to disaster relief in the country (Brattberg and Rhinard, “The EU and US” 1-2). Other people argue that the full control of the disaster preparedness policy environment in Haiti by the two main foreign actors, the United States and the European Union, makes these actors to consider themselves as being fully responsible and efficient when it comes to disaster relief. This observation comes from the intensity with which these actors initiate and control the relief efforts in the country (Brattberg and Mark, “Actors and Effectiveness” 361-366).

Therefore, it is worthwhile to argue that the Haiti’s government has been totally overshadowed by the heavy presence and intense participation of the foreign actors in crafting and implementing post disaster relief and reconstruction policies. The other reason why the foreign actors find it easy to control the post disaster relief policy environment in Haiti is that most of the financial support for the post disaster reconstruction programs comes from these foreign actors (Maguire and Copeland 2). This again paints the picture of the fragility of the economy of Haiti and its contribution to lack of capacity to initiate and manage post-disaster relief and reconstruction programs. The geographical position of the country is another factor that enhances the direct participation of foreign actors in post-disaster policy development in the country to (Gauthier and Moita 3).

Kelemen (par. 10) argues against the increased involvement of foreign countries in designing development projects in Haiti. In what he calls “Taiwanization” of Haiti, Kelemen argues that Haiti needed a thorough assessment of its development structures. This is vital in developing desirable structures of development that build on each other and not just the imposing development policies that are applied in other states. Here, the uniqueness of the country is an important factor to put into consideration as the search for better structures of development that can promote the resilience of the country from disasters continues (Margesson and Taft-Morales 2).

Since the earthquake disaster struck the country, the future of Haiti, more so the recovery of the country has largely been placed in the hands of donors and other international partners. The post-disaster recovery plan in the country is co-chaired by Bill Clinton, who is a special envoy of the United Nations and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. These two lead the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission that was established to help the citizens of Haiti to re-establish their lifelines. The Commission oversees strategic investment in various sectors of the country to strengthen the capacity of the country to respond to future hazards considering the fact that the country is susceptible to natural hazards (Maguire and Copeland 1-2). The poor political and economic organization remains to be a critical factor that makes it hard for the country to be in full control of the long-term relief and reconstruction efforts.

In spite of the reiteration of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Japan about the recognition of humanitarian assistance, getting support is an important indicator of the role of the international community in mitigating the risks that face humanity across the world. It is apparent that the international community has played a big role when it comes to the relief and the reconstruction efforts. However, what ought to be noted here is that unlike Haiti where the policy environment in the field of disaster relief and reconstruction is dominated by foreign actors, Japan welcomes foreign support, but the country is solidly in control of all efforts of relief and reconstruction following the 2011 earthquake (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 1).

Despite the high level of complexity witnessed in Japan due to the 2011 earthquake, the government of Japan has remained steady and firm in controlling the humanitarian situation in the country and restoring the lifelines in the areas that were immensely devastated by the earthquake hazard. The magnitude of the Japan earthquake was compounded by the destruction of the nuclear plant in Fukushima and the subsequent leakage of hazardous chemical compounds from the plant. Non-governmental organizations and foreign governments only offer complementary support to the initiatives that are set up and rolled out by the government. The pre-disaster planning in Japan continues to play a big role in post-disaster resilience. The government of Japan builds on the preparedness plans to develop policies that are critical in ensuring total relief and reconstruction. This means that the foreign actors in the country can only influence and not set precedence in the post disaster relief landscape in the country. Also, the public has confidence in their government in the case of the relief efforts by the Japanese government. The implication here is that the foreign agencies were merely seen as external actors backing the efforts by the government of Japan during the 2011 earthquake disaster (Okaniwa par. 1-7).

Policy recommendations for post disaster development

According to Maguire (4), the United Nations organization, which is the sole organization when it comes to the coordination of actors across the globe, is still bestowed with the mandate of ensuring that there are proper political, economic, and socio-cultural structures in Haiti. The presence of functional structures in any given country is critical in boosting the capacity of the country to set up and activate resilience mechanisms in cases of natural or man-made hazards and disasters. Just like it began nearly ten years ago, the United Nations should not allow other countries to take advantage of the devastation in Haiti to establish control over the country. The future of the country to respond to and recover from natural disasters effectively highly revolves around the presence of highly functional structures and a strong economy. Countries need established structures. This is what Japan had, enabling it to respond to an earthquake of a bigger magnitude more effectively than the Haitian government that could hardly respond to an earthquake of a lower magnitude.

The other important thing to observe when it comes to disasters and development is that the post-disaster response actions have to revolve around the complete reconstruction of the affected community. There has to be a high level of coordination between the players taking part in the relief, recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts for this to be achieved. The government is always the first and most important responder and has to be given the mandate of coordination. However, in cases where the capacity of the government to coordinate is lower, the United Nations has to be given a chance to coordinate the disaster management efforts that are being run by all the non-governmental stakeholders. With this, it is easy to reduce the chances of duplicating roles and wastage of resources and increase the chances of meeting the real goals of relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

Another critical lesson that comes out of this paper is that there is a need to deploy risk reduction mechanisms in the hi-tech development projects that are put in place by countries. Risk reduction is critical in reducing the dangers that come when natural hazards strike. This is based on the 2011 earthquake that hit Japan and the rapture of the nuclear plant in the country, which exposed the population to further dangers resulting from the radioactive substances from the ruptured nuclear plant. Special attention has to be given to the design of such projects and, if possible, special disaster preparedness mechanisms established for the projects of such nature. Such plans need to be incorporated in the post-disaster reconstruction efforts to take care of the possible future risks.

Works Cited

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