Perspectives on Avoidable Deaths

Professor Norio Okada’s Perspective on Avoidable Deaths

Professor Norio Okada is an Emiratus Professor at Kyoto University. He is also Advisor to Kwansei Gakuin University, Visiting Professor at Kumamoto University and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany.

 Professor Norio Okada’s Interview Transcript

  1. Do you believe it is possible to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two global targets?  The first target is to substantially reduce disaster mortality by 2030, and the second target is to substantially reduce the number of affected people by 2030). 

We need to keep optimistic about achieving these challenging targets. At the same time, we should not underestimate yet unseen barriers and gaps which may stand in our way to implement them. So “implementation” is a key issue.

  1. In no more than two sentences what is the most effective way to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two targets? 

I have such a feeling that in addressing the above two global targets, we tend to be biased towards top-down- and overly macroscopic-approaches. My sense is that another type of approach, that is, a more bottom-up approach combined with build-up efforts from a microscopic level need to be highlighted and closely examined. How to improve implementation of a very small, modest project for reducing the numbers of avoidable deaths and affected people is exactly a typical example of the latter case.

  1. In your opinion which organisation should take the lead in achieving the Sendai’s first two targets? 

In this regard, I should like to call people’s attention to the importance of transdisciplinary academic efforts already under way.  Since the past two decades I have taken initiative to establish the Integrated Disaster Risk Management (IDRiM) Society.

In my opinion, this society has been taking the lead in addressing “implementation themes” as a clue to integrating “last mile issues” into disaster knowledge development. How to reduce avoidable deaths and disaster affected people is a typical subject of “last mile issues.”  IDRiM is now entering into the next decade with new strategic plans adopted. It says, “we continue to disseminate and to provide easy access to IDRiM and implementation science research and solutions.” (IDRiM Society Strategy 2030). My advice is that the Avoidable Death Networks (ADN) should work more closely with academic societies such as IDRiM Society.

  1. Are you aware of any good practices in reducing the number of avoidable disaster deaths and affected people? 

Here are two good practices which have proved to work for these purposes. Both cases are found in Japan. One case practice was developed based on lessons learned from the 1995 Hanshin Awaji Earthquake Disaster.  Engineers first found out that one of the easiest and quickest way to reduce avoidable deaths in this type of earthquake is to install  furniture overturning preventive measure in houses, such as an easy, inexpensive device to nail the furniture to the wall. However, experts and practitioners came to understand that they need to engage different stakeholders in order to make this integrative effort into practice. That is, a typical implementation gap problem. (For your information, please refer to our recent paper  Implementation Gaps Are Persistent Phenomena in Disaster Risk Management: A Perspective Developed After Discussions at IDRiM 2022 | Published in IDRiM Journal)  

Another god practice: The 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster left us with telling evidence of successful evacuation by local school children, teachers and parents sharing and practicing the agreed rule of  “I should immediately evacuate to our common shelter where we family members must meet together..”  Before the great disaster, they had repeatedly practiced evacuation drills based on the conventional wisdom of  “ tsunami tendenko.” This means “implementation“ proved to be the source of success.

For your information, please see Katada, Toshitaka (2012): Disaster Prevention oriented to avoidable deaths (Hitoga shinanai Bosai), Shueisha. Publishing Company (in Japanese), and  Yamori, K. (2014). Revisiting the concept of tsunami tendenko: Tsunami evacuation behavior in the Great East Japan Earthquake. In Studies on the 2011 off the pacific coast of Tohoku earthquake (pp. 49-63). Springer, Tokyo.

  1. Why should we reduce avoidable disaster deaths and the number of people affected by disasters? 

To reduce “avoidable deaths” is considered obviously a top priority issue to achieve in any civic society around this modern world. Especially disasters are one of the major events which threaten many people to immediate or indirect deaths as well as devastating people’s lives. So reducing the number of avoidable deaths caused by disasters should be more clearly set as the essential goal of disaster risk deduction and governance. Also we should continue to do our utmost best to reduce the number of affected people.

Therefore, everybody agrees with “we reduce avoidable disaster deaths and the number of people affected by disasters.”  It serves as an easy, simple and obvious “common flag” for disaster risk reduction and governance.

As I mentioned in the above remarks, yet the challenge remains mainly related to “implementation issues” for reducing (the number of) avoidable deaths and affected people.  I immediately add, however, that naming it simply and clearly and raising it high as a mission flag for disaster risk reduction and governance provides us with a solid footing to take the next step forward: “Let us more strategically strive for overcoming much of the challenge we seem to be faced with.”

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