Learning from Japan on how to manage disasters

Learning from Japan on how to manage disasters
Noble plans: An animated Horie talking about how researchers from both countries can share knowledge at his office at the UTM campus in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR - The floods that ravaged the east coast last December has been likened by some to have had the effect of a tsunami.

No one can better testify to that better than Masahiko Horie, who was Japan's ambassador to Malaysia when a massive tsunami hit his country's Tohoku region in 2011.

Many watched him on TV as he sobbed before Malaysian journalists, speaking of the disaster that hit his people and country.

"I remember my mobile phone was jammed with messages of sympathy and support for Japan in our time of great need. I was very comforted with that," he recalled.

Horie said there was much Malaysia could learn from Japan on disaster management.

"Malaysia is relatively immune to natural disasters. However, with progressive climate change, Malaysia will be experiencing stronger and more frequent incidents such as the floods last year," he cautioned.

Horie, 68, certainly knows the subject matter - he currently serves as Japan's Ambassador for Global Environmental Affairs and attends international conferences on climate change.

"Japan is prone to more disasters, including tsunamis, earthquakes and landslides. There is a lot more experience we can share on how to manage large-scale disasters," he said in an interview here.

Almost four years after leaving his posting here, the good-natured Horie continues to work behind the scenes on Japan-Malaysia relations, chiefly as Distinguished Ambassador at the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology (MJIIT) based at the UTM campus here.

He is working to set up a disaster risk management research centre at the institute.

"If researchers from both countries can work together and share experiences, that would be significant,'' he added.

He also gives lectures at various Japanese universities to stir interest among students in international cooperation, namely Japanese diplomacy at Meiji University, climate change at Tsukuba University and environment and biodiversity at Kyoto University.

Horie said the challenge of creating awareness about the sustainability of earth's resources "excites me" daily.

Horie pointed out that global warming, a by-product of the industrial revolution, had caused temperatures to rise by 2°C since the last century.

"The fact that it has taken 100 years for such a small change has caused many people to not take this seriously," he cautioned.

With rising sea temperatures coupled with over-fishing, Horie said several species of fish including eels and tuna were under threat.

"I always warn the Japanese on the dangers of over-fishing. If tuna fish becomes extinct, our next generation can no longer enjoy the taste of good sushi," he quipped.

Comparing Malaysia to Japan, Horie said his homeland was a country where the people spoke a single language and shared a homogeneous culture.

"Malaysians easily understand each other. Sadly, it also means Japan, as a country, finds it difficult to serve well in a globalised market," he said.

These days, Horie promotes his "Look Malaysia Policy", which positions Malaysia as a study destination to Japanese students.

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