The heart chills on seeing the scenes of devastation after the massive quake and tsunami hit on Friday…
But I have no doubt the Japanese people will reach deep and rise from this, as they have many times before:
The economic aftershocks of the earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on Friday are only slightly less difficult to fathom than the scale of the human tragedy and physical devastation.
This massive event was bigger than the Great Hanshin quake that devastated Kobe in 1995. Its economic impact may be less severe.
Most observers at the time thought that it would take at least ten years to get Kobe back to working order. The economic hit was variously estimated at up to 10 per cent of Japanese GDP. Less than eighteen months later, in fact, manufacturing output in the Kobe region reached 98 per cent of pre-quake levels. Only a year later, exports were running at 85 per cent of pre-quake volumes. Two years after the quake, all debris had been removed — a colossal achievement — and all the infrastructure restored.
Making the gruesome calculations for loss of human capital as well as physical capital, loss of capital stock in the Kobe quake is calculated to have been US$127 billion or a miniscule 0.08 per cent of all Japan’ s physical and human assets at the time.
Post-quake Kobe was very different from Kobe before the quake. The city has been re-engineered, providing excellent urban infrastructure and greater insulation against future shocks. The lessons learned from Kobe about the risks from poor infrastructure engineering (highways, water, sewerage, transport and communications) have been steadily applied in the major conurbations across Japan. Visitors to Tokyo will have noticed the painstaking reinforcements being put in place to its highway system over the last 15 years — one reason it withstood Friday’s violent shake so well.
These achievements are testimony to human resilience, but particular testimony to the resilience and capacity of the Japanese people — not only their remarkable capacity to face natural calamity stoically but the human capital, skills and organisational know-how they bring to dealing with it on a grand scale and with great efficiency.
This national character is on full display now.
–Peter Drysdale, Australian National University
Indeed, the Japanese people have a remarkable capacity to face not just natural, but all kinds of calamities with a firm stoicism.
Whatever it may be said of them, they are an amazing people.