It appears Japanese policy-makers are getting inspiration from Hollywood for their latest economic 'fixes'. Having begun the building of a giant 'Game of Thrones'-esque ice-wall to hold back the radiation leaking from Fukushima (only to fail miserably); AP reports the latest cunning plan from the Japanese is to build a Pacific-Rim-esque "massive, costly sea wall to fend off tsunamis." The $6.8 billion, 250-mile-long, 41-foot-high concrete barrier public works project is seen by some as a necessary evil, and by others as a jail... Perhaps The UN's head of Disaster Risk Reduction summed it up best - "There's a bit of an over-belief in technology as a solution."
Four years after a towering tsunami ravaged much of Japan's northeastern coast, efforts to fend off future disasters are focusing on a nearly 400-kilometer (250-mile) chain of cement sea walls, at places nearly five stories high.
Opponents of the 820 billion yen ($6.8 billion) plan argue that the massive concrete barriers will damage marine ecology and scenery, hinder vital fisheries and actually do little to protect residents who are mostly supposed to relocate to higher ground. Those in favor say the sea walls are a necessary evil, and one that will provide some jobs, at least for a time.
In the northern fishing port of Osabe, Kazutoshi Musashi chafes at the 12.5-meter (41-foot)-high concrete barrier blocking his view of the sea.
"The reality is that it looks like the wall of a jail," said Musashi, 46, who lived on the seaside before the tsunami struck Osabe and has moved inland since.
Pouring concrete for public works is a staple strategy for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its backers in big business and construction, and local officials tend to go along with such plans.
The paradox of such projects, experts say, is that while they may reduce some damage, they can foster complacency. That can be a grave risk along coastlines vulnerable to tsunamis, storm surges and other natural disasters. At least some of the 18,500 people who died or went missing in the 2011 disasters failed to heed warnings to escape in time.
"We don't need the sea wall to be higher. What we do need is for everyone to evacuate," Iguchi said.
"The safest thing is for people to live on higher ground and for people's homes and their workplaces to be in separate locations. If we do that, we don't need to have a 'Great Wall,'" he said.
While the lack of basic infrastructure can be catastrophic in developing countries, too heavy a reliance on such safeguards can lead communities to be too complacent at times, says Margareta Wahlstrom, head of the U.N.'s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
"There's a bit of an overbelief in technology as a solution, even though everything we have learned demonstrates that people's own insights and instincts are really what makes a difference, and technology in fact makes us a bit more vulnerable," Wahlstrom said in an interview ahead of a recent conference in Sendai convened to draft a new framework for reducing disaster risks.
"Actually, many people are in favor of the sea walls, because they will create jobs," said Takahashi. "But even people who really don't like the idea also feel as if they would be shunned if they don't go along with those who support the plan," he said.
Some voices in unexpected places are urging a rethink of the plan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie, offered numerous objections to cementing the northeast coast in a speech in New York last September. She said the walls may prevent residents from keeping an eye out for future tsunamis and would be costly to maintain for already dwindling coastal communities.
"Please do not proceed even if it's already decided," she said. Instead of a one-size-fits-all policy, she suggested making the plan more flexible. "I ask, is building high sea walls to shield the coast line really, really the best?"
Rikuzentakata, a small city near Osabe whose downtown area was wiped out by the tsunami, is building a higher sea wall, but also moving many tons of earth to raise the land well above sea level.
Local leader Takeshi Konno said no construction project will eliminate the need for coastal residents to protect themselves.
"What I want to stress is that no matter what people try to create, it won't beat nature, so we humans need to find a way to co-exist with nature," Konno said. "Escaping when there is danger . the most important thing is to save your life."
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