On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Tohoku region, in north-eastern Honshu, the main island of Japan. The tremor triggered a tsunami that measured more than 40 meters in height in places. More than 15,000 people have been confirmed dead, with another 3,000 people missing (feared dead) and 6,000 people injured. On the same day, the installation of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, situated 230km north of Tokyo, was severely damaged by the earthquake and the following tsunami, losing the power supply and subsequently the control of the cooling systems. As a consequence, nuclear meltdown occurred in three of the reactors. Tens of thousands had to flee their homes as radiation leaked into the atmosphere, sea and food chains. One year on from the disaster, more than 330,000 people are still displaced from home after having lost their houses by the earthquake and tsunami, and as radiation fears increase from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The Disaster EVAcuation and RiSk PercepTion in Democracies (DEVAST) project was designed to analyse the chain of impacts, from the immediate response to the long-lasting impacts induced by the above Great East Japan Earthquake and the following Fukushima nuclear accident, focusing particularly on the displacement of population.
Following an analysis of the disaster response, the project looks closely at the evolution of the perception of risks in the Japanese society as a whole, and ultimately on other liberal democracies such as France. A comparative analysis with France on the issue of disaster management and perception of risks will be conducted in order to understand how democracies deal disasters.
The project is one of the few looking at the social impacts of the disaster: it brings together Japanese and French researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITech), Waseda University and IDDRI – Sciences Po. It is jointly funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) through its International Collaborative Research/Survey Programme (J-RAPID) and the French National Research Agency (ANR) through its ‘Flash-Japon’ (ANR-11-JAPN-007) programme.
The project is designed around the following three themes:
Disaster Evacuation and its Chain of Impacts
The project first analyses disaster responses in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, and the accident of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, focusing on the process of evacuation. DEVAST will seek to understand how the evacuation was organised, when and which information was disseminated among the population, what affected the decisions of evacuees to accept such displacements, examine the current situation of evacuees and assess the likelihood of their return, hence measuring the impact of such massive displacement in terms of social construction. Then it explores to identify the chain of impacts induced by these events through a domino effect that comprises of medium to long-term social, economic and political impacts on the Japanese society. A special attention will be paid to the social and cultural context of the Japanese society and how that has affected the chain of impacts.
Perception of Risks
The disaster has ramifications well beyond Tohoku region: indeed, it not only set off a crisis in Japanese society at large but also incited a heated debate on the issues such as disaster preparedness, energy strategy and nuclear safety beyond its borders. Despite Japan’s extensive experience in dealing with earthquakes and tsunamis, the disaster raised serious questions about the government’s preparations for and handling of the disaster. The project thus examines the shift in the perception of risks in the Japanese society and its implications in other democracies, especially France.
How Democracies Deal with Disasters
Thirdly, the project brings together the above two themes in a comparative perspective with France, seeking to understand how democracies deal with disasters and to draw lessons. Though developed countries are often supposed to have good capacities to cope with disasters, these recent examples show that they are actually often ill-equipped to do so. Without pointing fingers, the project will seek to draw lessons from the Tohoku Earthquake for the management of extreme natural disasters worldwide, with a special focus in France.
The project is implemented mainly by the collection of primary data through an extensive field research and the analysis of secondary data such as media reports, government documents, opinion surveys, and related articles. The field research will be the key component of the project, and will collect empirical evidence through interviews with the displaced population, local authorities, emergency workers and the government officials in concern. The data collected from the fieldwork will be made available to the public and the academic community through this website. The analysis of secondary data will be conducted throughout the project implementation to complement this process. It includes the analysis of evacuation plans, opinion polls, media coverage, and related scientific articles.
This website is an essential part of our dissemination effort to communicate the project results and progress to a larger audience and make the primary data widely available for the research community.