Japan is our wake-up call

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Japan is our wake-up call

“Let’s be happy that we are still alive,” reads a scribbled note posted on the wall of a middle school auditorium in Rikuzentaka, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, where almost 80 percent of the city’s population of 23,200 people were suddenly swept away in the terrible tsunami last Friday.

But will it be enough for the survivors just to save their lives?

The death toll from the cataclysmic earthquake that hit the northeastern region of Japan appears to have exceeded 10,000 already. About 410,000 refugees are struggling for life with only two or three cups of water per day at countless shelters across the region.

Worse, the temperature dropped below zero degrees Celsius in the devastated Tohoku region, with snow falling yesterday.

A week after the quake, Japan is waging an all-out war to resuscitate its ravaged lifelines. In most of the areas, supplies of electricity, gas and tap water have all been cut off, and there is a painful lack of food, fuel, blankets and powdered milk as well as essential medical services. Even daily necessities cannot reach the battered area due to a colossal lack of cars and gasoline.

When an oil tanker arrived at a gas station in the area, it was impossible for workers to refuel an empty oil storage facility because its electric power was out.

How a country copes with a natural disaster is a genuine barometer of the country’s power. Japan has been proud of its top-notch infrastructure such as earthquake-resistant buildings, roads and railways, together with double- and multiple-contingency systems. Yet it has showed signs of rupture here and there.

Still, one should keep in mind, however, that this earthquake and its resultant tsunami was the second worst in history, after the 9.5-magnitude quake in Chile in 1960.

Let’s imagine a disaster of this size occurring in Korea. Can we be sure we will not repeat the trials and errors as seen in Japan?

We may have to worry about the possibility of chaos immediately turning into a national crisis. In rural areas, we have just as many over-65 populations, who are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Are we confident that our systems for dealing with horrible natural disasters are reliable? The disaster in Japan is a wake-up call to re-examine and revitalize our safety systems. And we must be fully prepared to deal with the possibility of North Korea’s nuclear threats unexpectedly turning into a horrendous reality.

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