Japan tsunami gives lessons on disaster management

Japan's Reconstruction Minister Tatsuo Hirano delivers his keynote speech at the opening plenary session of the Sendai Dialogue.

SENDAI - The experiences of survivors of the massive quake and tsunami that smashed into Japan last year were being mined Tuesday at an international meeting on disaster management.

Pre-emptive measures to reduce damage and save lives when natural disaster strikes were top of the agenda at the two-day conference, part of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Organisers picked Sendai because it is the capital of a region that lost nearly 19,000 people when the massive waves of March 2011 rolled ashore, crushing whole communities.

"I hope to share with people in the world our country's experiences from the disaster," Japan's reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano told delegates.

He said even a country as well-prepared as Japan could not disaster-proof itself.

"There is no such word as 'absolute' in disaster prevention terms," Hirano said, noting a tsunami warning system that had worked well for years focusing on speed rather than accuracy had failed.

"The tsunami warning predicted the height of the tsunami as three metres, but the actual tsunami measured nearly 20 metres in some places, easily overcoming defences," he said.

"We have to learn how to react to situations beyond our expectations."

Hirano said disaster-evacuation planning had largely been carried out by men, which meant "many women faced difficulties living in emergency shelters because there had been little input from women".

Sendai mayor Emiko Okuyama told the conference urban areas had proved unexpectedly vulnerable.

She said the greater-than-expected concentration of people in cities - tourists and commuters unable to return home - had also strained the system.

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