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India should take a leaf out of Kobe quake experience Tuesday, February 20, 2001
AHMEDABAD: While foresight doesn't always help in coping with natural disasters, experiences learnt the hard way by similarly-affected populations prove to be useful hindsight, especially when it comes to rebuilding societies.
Rebuilding a quake-ravaged city is not an easy job and rehabilitation plans made in a hurry, without local participation by affected communities, can lead to awry results. Ask Toyokazu Nakata, member of steering committee, ShaplaNeer, a Tokyo-based NGO, and who was also the chief co-ordinator of the local NGOs co-ordinating team for the Kobe quake relief in January 1995.
"The Kobe municipal government had drafted a rehabilitation plan by March 17, exactly two months after the quake on January 17. However, the plan was not fully acceptable to all citizens in all areas, and therefore could not be implemented in total, even till date. So, when the government fails to take public opinion of affected residents, all plans go to naught," says Nakata, who is here in his new designation as the director of Indian Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Programme formed within the NGO.
While the rich, influential and the young had the courage to defy the Kobe plan, citizens who were dependent on the social dole had no say. Especially affected by the resettlement plans in Kobe, recalls Nakata, were "Senior citizens who were put together in collective buildings spaced at great distances in the suburbs. Used to their previous own community, this resulted in a tremendous sense of alienation and isolation; some in fact committed suicide due to this inhuman stress."
Besides, the "standardised reconstruction programmes in Kobe built up uniform and mechanical towns unattractive for local people, causing outflow or migration of local populations and therefore, hampering swift economic recovery of the localities."
Nakata, who also chairs the Board of Kobe Empowerment Centre, says that India has a simple lesson to be learnt from the bitter Kobe experience.
"Rehabilitation plans should not be drawn in haste and even international donor agencies like ADB or the World Bank should not be allowed to hurry the Indian government to submit such plans. Construction of temporary homes and then rebuilding houses with simple techniques, like a light roof and deep foundation, would go a long way. The most important is, of course the revitalisation of local economies and with the initiative of the local people." Conceding that housing is a "personal, individual issue," Nakata adds, "the government has a social role to pitch in for the economically weaker sections of society, like it did in Kobe, with vulnerable sections required to pay nominal rents for housing."
ShaplaNeer plans to work in the coming months in tandem with local NGOs like the DMI (Disaster Mitigation Institute), co-ordination office of the UNDP. "I came back on Monday morning from Kutch. The extent of devastation is much more here than in Kobe, where 6,400 deaths occurred and about 1,92,706 houses were damaged, with 3.16 lakh people affected."
A month after the Kobe quake, Nakata was instrumental in mobilising citizens to form a steering committee in Amagasaki, where he lived. "The citizens' committee was so powerful that even the government wanted to be a part of the panel," smiles Nakata.
The Kobe committee, which drafted the rehab plan three years after the quake, is still active, having published an Alternative Plan two months ago. While the two places (Kobe and Bhuj) are so different, socially, culturally and economically, "sorrows of the affected people and competing efforts of relief agencies look so familiar," concludes Nakata.