Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM)

Volume 1 Number 1 (2009)

doi: 10.3850/S179392402009000155

Let Us Always Try to Make One Step Forward

Tsuneo Katayama
President, Asian University Network of Environment
and Disaster Management (AUEDM)
President, International Association of Earthquake Engineering (IAEE)
Professor, Tokyo Denki University


Asian University Network of Environment and Disaster Management (AUEDM) is a newly established group to link the academic research and field practice. AUEDMhas currently 16members from 14 countries and regions, and hasmade a modest start in addressing the implementation issues of environment and disaster management.

I am serving as the President of IAEE. The World Conference on Earthquake Engineering is held every four years, the last having been held in Beijing in October 2008. In spite of the great efforts by a number of scientists and engineers all over the world, every time we meet in theWorld Conference, we realize that so many lives and so much property have been lost in several earthquakes during the preceding four years.

The four years previous to the Beijing Conference of 2008 was no exception. We had again to see many earthquake disasters in many parts of the world. There was a devastating earthquake disaster in the Pakistan/India/Afghanistan border area in 2003 taking more than 90,000 lives in Pakistan alone, and the 2004 Tsunami caused by the earthquake near Sumatra Island killed 180,000 people in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. In May 2008, we witnessed the Sichuan Wenchuan earthquake ofMay 12 in China which is reported to have claimed about 80,000 lives including those of many school children.We should remember that, on the second of the same month, only ten days before the disastrous earthquake in China, Cyclone "Nargis" hit Myanmar and reportedly killed 140,000 people.

These were huge natural disasters taking a huge number of human lives. We generally have a bad habit of treating disasters in terms of statistics. Is a disaster which took 1,000 lives more important than that with 10 death casualties? When there is a natural disaster taking a huge number of deaths, hundreds of researchers visit the disaster-stricken area, and hundreds of reconnaissance reports are published. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Before considering to make reconnaissance to take photos of the disaster site and before preparing often useless reports on the reconnaissance, we must ask ourselves whether such activities have something truly beneficial to the affected people or not.We must be human before we are researchers. For those who have lost their lives or for those whose dearest kin have lost their lives, the size of a disaster is not significant. From the humanitarian point of view, there are many more natural disasters than the several huge and very disastrous ones that attract the international media.

In developed countries, science and engineering related to natural disastermitigation are becoming growinglymore diversified. People talk about business continuity plan during a disaster, natural disaster insurance, socio-economic effects of a disaster, the preparedness on the national level, and so on. They are undoubtedly important, but we have to understand that there are more primary and critical issues in many parts of the world. The vital problem in many of recent natural disasters, earthquake disasters in particular, was that related to weak structures, houses and buildings. Children killed by the collapse of weak school buildings typify such situation.

"Making strong and inexpensive homes and buildings" seems to be the key in our profession. The problem is always more acute in developing countries where people's lives are distressed even without natural disasters.

Let us take earthquake disaster for example. Even if earthquake prediction would become available, or how much earthquake insurance we might pay for our home and property, weak houses remain weak and they will collapse when subjected to strong earthquake motions. Whenever there was a devastating earthquake, seismologists would say they had known there was an active fault which might generate an earthquake of the recorded size. Engineers would say ground motion was stronger than those expected. People would suddenly realize so many buildings had been designed and built based on defective codes.

It is true that research and technology have advanced significantly, but these advances have misled people, especially those who believed themselves more knowledgeable about natural phenomena and disasters caused by them. Immediately following a miserable disaster, engineers, scientists, and often political leaders from developed countries get together to discuss how important are disaster mitigation measures and their prompt realization. But, such fevers quickly fade when there has not been a damaging disaster for a few decades. It is common because disasters in a given region do not occur often. We then erroneously think that our knowledge has surpassed the nature's malice. The society loses interest, and enthusiasm among professionals vanishes.

Following the SichuanWenchuan earthquake, I had an opportunity to observe active discussions in the Internet among earthquake engineering specialists on what was wrong with our previous efforts. All participants expressed their frustration, because the challenge is so difficult due to the many-sidedness of the problem. Although many of the participants seemed to have agreed that lack of government commitment, quality of construction, social and economic constraints, lack of awareness, corruption, legacy and cultural issues are some of the reasons for great life and monetary losses, it is not easy to find practical solution even for one side of the problem. However, according to the comment of one of the participants in the Internet discussions:

"It is the responsibility of a group of dedicated earthquake engineering professionals around the world to speak up with a united and organized voice to demand that governments improve their seismic safety, and to demand that researchers and practitioners direct more of their efforts on where most of the risk is —in developing countries."

In this context, the new journal named Asian Journal of Environment and Disaster Management (AJEDM) is a bold step by the professionals and practitioners in the field of disaster risk reduction and environmental management. They have come out of the traditional sectional division of the specialists, and have started this new journal for holistic learning of different disciplines. I wish that the journal will be able to serve its purpose, and will cumulate its experiences step by step.

We must be humble.We do not know much about the nature's wraths and how to make our society resilient to them. As responsible professionals, we must feel ashamed of any natural disasters taking place in any remote corners of the world. We have to admit that our way ahead is long for us to make a real change, but we can and we must improve science and engineering to reduce natural disasters and their effects on our society, always at least one step nearer to the goal.

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