Japan has identified South Asia as a key region for the extension of its cooperation in disaster prevention. As a matter of policy, Japan is in the process of strengthening the disaster prevention and response capabilities of countries vulnerable to natural disasters all over the world, Komura Masahiro, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan said.
‘Through such cooperation, Japan is contributing towards firming a rules-based and free and open Indian Ocean region. Right now, it is sharing its know-how on environmental management with countries vulnerable to environmental destruction. For example, Japan has provided such countries with a weather information system. It is also bolstering the capabilities of the environment management authorities of these countries. Patrol vessels provided to Sri Lanka at the height of its X-Press Pearl disaster, are a proof of this, Masahiro said.
Among other things, Masahiro explained that environmental disasters are occurring all over the world although some parts of the Indian Ocean region are experiencing growth. He added that environmental issues need to be identified and resolved early.
The Japanese Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking at the forum, ‘Disaster Risk Management and Japan’s Role in the Indian Ocean Rim Association’, conducted under the aegis of The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies’, Colombo (LKI) in collaboration with the embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka, on October 13th at the LKI auditorium. He, along with State Minister for Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon, were Guests of Honour at the forum, which was moderated by Dr. Harinda Vidanage, Director, International Relations and Founding Director, Centre for Strategic Assessment of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University.
Kicking-off the forum, LKI’s Executive Director, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinghe thanked Japan for her continued support for Sri Lanka as the latter builds disaster resilience through investments and capacity building. He added: “As Sri Lanka assumes the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, this event was the first in a series of IORA-related conferences and panel discussions being hosted by the LKI, which will bring together a foreign policy-concerned community to discuss several issues on the IORA agenda, including ‘Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions’, with the EU, ‘Blue Economy, the Way Forward’, with the UNDP and ‘Maritime Safety and Security in the Indian Ocean Region’, with UNODC.”
State Minister for Defence Tennekoon pointed to the importance of preventing smuggling operations by criminal elements in the Indian Ocean region. Some salient points made by him were: ‘Japan has taken a lead role in taking risk-management initiatives in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). With security cooperation in mind, Japan is working along with Sri Lanka’s Coast Guard.
‘We need to be proactive in managing environmental disasters. Even though Sri Lanka did not face any major environmental disasters between 2016 and 2021, Rs. 60 billion by way of relief assistance was provided by the government. But mitigation measures are important. Japan has made valuable contributions in the area of disaster resilience. Japan’s assistance to Sri Lanka during the 2004 tsunami tragedy was most valuable.’
Director General, Disaster Management Centre, Sri Lanka, Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, among other matters, reiterated the need for Sri Lanka to be constantly vigilant about oceanic disasters. Sri Lanka, he said, has already conducted a comprehensive study on disaster risk reduction with Japan. Six other such projects with Japan are ongoing and we need to consistently collaborate with IORA, he added.
Prof. Nagami Kozo, Specially Appointed Professor, International Research Institute of the Disaster Science, Green Goals Initiative, Tohoku University, highlighted the importance of shifting from managing disasters to managing disaster risk. He explained that disaster risk could be controlled. There is also little discussion on what to invest in, in this context.
Chief Representative of the Japan International Coordination Agency in Sri Lanka (JICA), Yamada Tetsuya said that over the past 50 years, 2 million people had died the world over in natural disasters. The resulting economic loss was 3 trillion USD. He stressed the importance of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan’s efforts at managing environmental issues and pointed out that JICA’s approaches to disaster risk management were in accordance with this framework.
A.J.M. Gunasekera, Gen. Manager (Actg.), Marine Environment Protection Authority, pointed out that, going forward, there is a big likelihood of environmental issues escalating the world over. He said that Sri Lanka’s X-Press Pearl disaster should be regarded as an eye opener. ‘We have to put in place mechanisms to contain such accidents. However, finger-pointing among our agencies has been the order of the day.’
He added: ‘Sixty percent of environmental disasters are caused by human error and there has been an increase in ship-related accidents in our waters over the last five years. But there is no sufficiently effective response mechanism locally on marine disasters. Nor is there any mechanism for information-sharing among regional states. Locally, there needs to be clear procedures and chains of command to manage environmental disasters. There also needs to be more financial investments, with adequate private sector participation, to manage issues in this field. ‘
‘Sri Lanka is currently faced with considerable marine disaster preparedness challenges that are going inadequately addressed. It is of note that there is no mechanism to respond to the prevalence of hazardous material in our waters. We lack sufficiently trained manpower to tackle major sea disasters in our region as well. We also possess very little equipment to respond effectively to sea-related accidents and disasters. There is also very little legal provision in our laws to enable us to win adequate compensation for disasters occurring in our seas caused by external quarters. Sri Lanka could address such challenges to a degree through effective regional mechanisms coming under IORA.’
Source : The Island