Japan's earthquake: A wave of death

March 13, 2011 - 0:0

Tsunami is a Japanese word, meaning “harbor wave”. Friday’s earthquake in northern Japan was remarkable in scale and devastation caused -- but it struck a country that experiences an earthquake in or around its vicinity every five minutes, and which is home to world-beating expertise on how to minimize the destruction they trigger.

The damage toll from Friday's earthquake is still mounting in Japan, but the international impact may conceivably be even more terrible, depending on how it affects poorer countries.
To be clear, the damage caused by one of Japan's biggest quakes in over a century is already huge. National media are talking about a death toll of 1,000, between 200 and 300 of them in the northern port of Sendai alone.
Officials Friday declared a state of emergency at the nuclear plant in Fukushima.
Cars, ships, homes and offices were all destroyed or swept away. The quake struck about 250 miles north of Tokyo, but initial estimates of the potential economic consequences have still been large, with one analyst talking about 1% being knocked off GDP in the short term.
The world's most indebted government will probably have to launch a big spending round to make up the damage – it would not be surprising if Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared a special quake budget. And the Bank of Japan has brought forward its scheduled policy announcement next week, presumably to unveil emergency measures.
Ever since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, Japan has either been in recession, or on the brink of it. This earthquake adds to the problems of an ultra-weak economy.
The scenes of devastation Friday naturally brought to mind the terrible Kobe earthquake of 1995. But that took place nearer a big city and left residents of the world's then second-largest economy living in tents for weeks and months. This week's quake may not have such adverse or long-lasting consequences; it is worth noting that Tokyo has so far suffered disruption rather than massive destruction. But what counts now is how far the tsunami spreads, and to which countries.
The blunt rule of natural disasters is that they affect poorer countries far worse than rich ones. Nongovernmental organizations were right Friday to voice worries about the possible impact on tiny island states such as Tuvalu and Samoa.
Similarly, while the first wave that hit Indonesia and the Philippines Friday seemed to do little damage, second or third waves may obviously be worse. The destruction caused by Japan's earthquake has already been savage; but if the tremors hit poorer countries in a big way the impact may be even worse.
(Source: The Guardian)