AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 478

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Session 478: Disasters in Asia: Societal and Governmental Responses and Responsibilities

Organizer: Christopher P. Hood, Cardiff University, United Kingdom

Disasters generate intense discussions of a culture's ultimate values and priorities. Regardless of whether natural phenomena or human actions trigger a catastrophe, it is societal and state responses that largely determine how devastating the disaster is. This panel considers, from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, how three modern Asian societies have prepared for, responded to, remembered, and politicized major disasters. In addition to examining links between modernization campaigns and a decline in state attention to relieving disaster victims in Japan and China, it offers case studies of how societies in contemporary Japan and Indonesia have sought to moderate the impact of disasters by promoting community resilience, and identifying and preparing assistance for vulnerable populations. Brown’s paper looks at the unsuccessful policies of government in Niigata prefecture (Japan) which led to flooding in 1926 and questions whether this was in part due to the way in which the country had modernized. Edgerton-Tarpley is concerned with the 1938 Yellow River Flood in China, providing an analysis of the newspaper coverage of the disaster and its politicization. Hood considers how documentaries, books and movies continue to shape society’s memories of the world’s worst single plane crash which happened in Japan in 1985. Tatsuki’s paper provides a detailed quantitative study of issues relating to providing assistance to those with special needs in the event of another major earthquake striking Kobe (Japan). Haase’s paper looks at the way the administrative system in Indonesia adapted to respond to the Great Sumatran Earthquake and Tsunami of 2004.

The Great Tochio Flood of 1926: Limits to Modernization in Flood Amelioration
Philip C. Brown, Ohio State University, USA

In regard to flood amelioration, Japan’s economic transformation with its new productive capacities, materials and machines had made its mark on riparian civil engineering by the 1920s. Japan boasted notable projects like the Iwabuchi project in Tokyo (1916), and the Okozu Diversionary channel, East Asia’s largest civil engineering project (1922). However much pride Japan took in such engineering accomplishments, and however much they conveyed impressions of a government able to marshal funds for large-scale projects to protect lives and property, these were the exceptional. Far more typical were provincial and local efforts to manage flood risk largely on their own. To analyze more typical efforts at flood reduction, this paper explores the unsuccessful local (prefecture, town and village) efforts in the area of Tochio, Niigata Prefecture, a town through which flow tributaries of Japan’s longest river, the Shinano. On July 28, 1926, its efforts to prevent flooding came to naught: Dikes were breached on four of Tochio’s six rivers in 170 places; they were destroyed completely at 42 places; 72 died, 15 were reported missing and 2479 homes flooded. The paper explores 1) the options open to communities like Tochio to address flood hazard, and 2) the degree to which local efforts failed reflected the impact of industrial modernization. At the heart of the analysis lies the question of the degree to which such communities were left largely on their own, robbed by the Meiji government of even that regional assistance a daimyo domain often provided.

A Necessary Sacrifice? The Politicization of Disaster in Chinese Media Coverage of the Yellow River Flood of 1938
Kathryn J. Edgerton-Tarpley, San Diego State University, USA

China’s Yellow River flood of 1938 was a self-inflicted catastrophe of epic proportions. Faced with the inexorable advance of Japanese armies across China, in June 1938 Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese military command decided to breach the southern dike of the Yellow River in a desperate attempt to buy time by ‘using water in place of soldiers’ against the invaders. The strategic breach soon widened into a 5000-foot-wide break, which caused the Yellow River to undergo a major change in course and led to massive flooding in three provinces. The flood failed to stop the Japanese advance, but it created close to four million refugees and killed as many as 900,000 people. Aware of the radical impact of its actions, the Guomindang government during the war did not admit responsibility for unleashing the flood, but instead blamed Japanese warplanes for causing the breach. After the war, the campaign to draw meaning from the disaster and repair the breach exacerbated tensions between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communists. This paper analyzes Chinese media coverage of the 1938 flood and its aftermath. By comparing how national, local, pro-Guomindang and pro-Communist newspapers in China responded to the flood itself and the postwar struggle over plugging the breach, it offers a snapshot of Chinese attitudes towards calamity during a time of war, and provides a vivid case study of the politicization of disaster in modern China.

Social Memory of Japan’s Titanic: Emotion, History, Conspiracy and the JL123 Crash
Christopher P. Hood, Cardiff University, United Kingdom

On 12 August 1985 Japan Air Lines flight JL123 crashed in mountains north-west of Tokyo. 32 minutes earlier an explosion had blown off much of its rear stabilizer and all hydraulics had been lost. By the time that search and rescue teams reached the site some 15 hours later, all but 4 of the 524 passengers and crew were dead. Over the following days the media covered the news of events from the crash site and Fujioka, where families tried to identify loved ones. Notes written by some of those on board which were found highlighted the torment of the conditions inside the plane. Every year the media continues to report on the anniversary events held in the village where the plane crashed. In the years that followed the official investigation there have been numerous books, documentaries, novels and films that have discussed the crash. This paper argues that it is these outputs, rather than the official investigation’s own report, which are likely to mould how society continues to remember the events of 1985. In particular the paper will focus upon the two novels and their dramatizations in looking at the way in which the story of what happened in 1985 may have shifted over the 25 years which have passed since the crash. The paper argues that JL123 is becoming Japan’s equivalent of the Titanic sinking – a story rife with emotion, coincidences, and conspiracies – and one which all Japanese will have some knowledge of in years to come.

Stakeholder Collaboration for Evacuation and Sheltering Assistance Planning for Persons with Special Needs in Time of Disaster
Shigeo Tatsuki, Doshisha University, Japan

This paper reports the results from the Kobe Project for Persons with Special Needs in Time of Disaster (PSND), which demonstrates the use of GIS for mapping of special needs populations and emphasizes stakeholder collaboration in order to facilitate community-based evacuation and sheltering assistance planning. The city administration of Kobe (population 1.5 million) collated separate social service recipient databases, resulting in an integrated database involving 120,000 individuals who were considered being potentially vulnerable. The database identified 4,329 persons with disabilities in Hyogo Ward (population 107,000). The 2008 project geocoded and mapped them on landslide, flood and tsunami hazard layers. 914 individuals were found residing in hazardous areas. These individuals were visited by interviewers and 612 or 67% responded to a structured questionnaire which measured demographics, levels of impairments and functional needs, social isolation, and housing fragility. Estimates for social capital in project areas were also obtained from a different research project. A social vulnerability score was then calculated as a function of these six variables. 17% of those who responded were found to be the most vulnerable and requiring priority assistance. Furthermore, a social vulnerability weighted kernel density map was created. The map indicated which particular areas are more vulnerable in terms of PSND density and thus require more human resources for evacuation and sheltering assistance. The maps help representatives from special needs groups, community emergency response teams, community social services, and emergency management centers initiate collaborative evacuation and sheltering assistance planning in the project areas.

Evolution in Administrative Systems: Exploring Indonesia’s Response to the Great Sumatran Earthquake and Tsunami
Thomas W. Haase, Independent Scholar, Lebanon

Conventional wisdom suggests that policy-makers can moderate disaster consequences by promoting community resilience. While the manner in which resilience is facilitated and maintained is not fully understood, systems that possess the capacity to adapt to conditions of uncertainty have been described as resilient. A system’s capacity to adapt, or modify the structure of its activities, is related to many factors, including its social-technical characteristics and the availability of actionable information. Social capital, defined as the benefits derived from the relationships among the actors in a system, also seems to influence a system’s adaptive capacity. This paper investigates adaption within the administrative system that operated in Indonesia after the Great Sumatran Earthquake and Tsunami. To identify response organizations and interactions exchanged between organizations, a content analysis was conducted on newspaper articles and situation reports published between 26 December 2004 and 17 January 2005. This data was then transformed into a series of twenty-two relational matrices, which were examined using the network analysis software. Basic social network measures were generated for each of the twenty-two relational matrices to identify whether the system underwent structural change. This analysis generated findings that may indicate that the system underwent adaptation. First, the system experienced structural change two weeks after the tsunami. Second, in terms of social capital, some organizations shifted from interactions that could be classified as bonding to interactions that could be classified as bridging.