Last night Channel Four showed a documentary outlining how the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happened. It gave some good and clear explanations of some of the science behind the event, and how the vulnerability of communities combined with the hazards to create the disaster.
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One stark message from the program was how, even when a country prepares for such a disaster, it is incredibly difficult to understand the complexity of how things will interact. Japan built large coastal flood barriers to hold back high tides and large tsunami waves... yet during the earthquake it is thought that there was subsidence of land of up to 1m - reducing the effectiveness of these walls. Japan's preparations for earthquakes and tsunamis, and the vast sums of money they invested in reducing vulnerability, will have saved many lives and reduced the level of disaster. Yet tragically, over 10,000 people have died - with another 17,000 missing - demonstrating the difficulty of disaster-proofing a city.
As more work and research is done, including the development of multi-hazard risk assessments, it is hoped that even if we cannot prevent hazards, we can further improve our preparation for them, decrease our vulnerability, and thus reduce the magnitude of the disaster.