Planning for Disaster Resilience in Japan: Integration of ‘Build Back Better’

Published date01 September 2019
Date01 September 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Planning for Disaster
Resilience in Japan:
Integration of ‘Build
Back Better’
Gerald Potutan1
‘Build back better’, as a policy, is an integral part of planning for disaster resilience
in Japan. This policy puts emphasis on addressing the underlying causes of
disaster vulnerability during the recovery process so that people, infrastructures
and assets can withstand the impacts of future disasters. Enforcing ‘Build back
better’ policy offers a range of benefits: it prevents loss of life and property from
future disasters; it stimulates economic activities; and it generates co-benefits.
However, as a policy, countries around world do not have a common under-
standing of what ‘build back better’ means, including how to achieve and sustain
it. This article reviews the case of Japan and argues that enforcement of ‘Build
back better’ policy demands regular drills and simulations, making it part
of the ‘culture of resilience’.
Disaster resilience, ‘build back better’, recovery, disaster risk reduction, Japan
Introduction: The Dynamic Japanese Policy Concept of
‘Build Back Better’
‘Build back better’ policy (e.g., improving land use, enhancing construction
standards and ensuring social safety nets during the recovery process) reduces
future impacts from disasters, making recovery faster, the second time around.
The prevailing notion is that there is opportunity to ‘use of the recovery, reha-
bilitation, and reconstruction phases after a disaster to increase the resilience
of nations and communities through integrating disaster risk reduction measures
into the restoration of physical infrastructure and societal systems, and into the
Indian Journal of Public
65(3) 611–626, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119844560
1 International Recovery Platform, Chuo-ku Kobe, Japan.
Corresponding author:
Gerald Potutan, International Recovery Platform, Chuo-ku Kobe, Japan.
612 Indian Journal of Public Administration 65(3)
revitalisation of livelihoods, economies, and the environment’ (UNISDR, 2016).
This concept implies that if a house has totally collapsed from an earthquake, the
underlying causes of its vulnerability need to be addressed during the recovery
process so that it can withstand future disasters. The same concept is promoted for
recovery of non-physical aspects, like health and livelihoods, wherein restoration
to a pre-disaster state is discouraged. In other words, ‘Build back better’ is not just
restoring from disaster but taking the opportunity to achieve greater resilience—
through improvements in both structural and non-structural measures.
Why Is ‘Build Back Better’ Policy Important?
‘Build back better’ policy is viewed as an investment to avert future losses from
a disaster, and if not pursued, losses can be severe. Take for instance the case of
JN France Hospital in St Kitts and Nevis (a small island nation in the Caribbean),
where, in 1998, it could not function due to over 90 per cent damage caused
by Hurricane George. Three years earlier, the same hospital was severely ripped
by Hurricane Luis and incurred losses because it was rebuilt in the same manner
as before. In fact, the hospital had experienced huge damages of no less than
ten times on separate occasions since it opened in 1966 (International Recovery
Platform [IRP], 2010a). It can be argued that if the hospital immediately mitigated
the weak structures during recovery, the succeeding damages could have been
reduced or prevented. Japan has a different story. After the Great Hanshin-Awaji
Earthquake of 1995, the Seismic Rehabilitation Promotion Act for Existing
Buildings was enacted and enforced, not only in Kobe but also on a nation-wide
scale (Katayama, 2004). Therefore, buildings constructed after 1995 underwent
stricter and tougher standards. As a result, most of the buildings withstood
the magnitude 9.0 of Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 (The World Bank,
2014a). The message is clear: it pays to have a ‘build back better’ policy. In eco-
nomic terms, in every US$1 invested in prevention, between US$4 and US$11
in disaster-related losses can be prevented (The World Bank, 2010).
Moreover, ‘Build back better’ policy is important because it offers a range of
benets. First, it prevents loss of life and property from future disasters. In
Vietnam, ‘build back better’ housing policy in Da Nang City demonstrated
this benet when houses incurred no damage from Typhoon Nari in October
2013 (The World Bank, 2017). Second, it stimulates economic activities. In
Madagascar, farmers beneted by as much as 4.5 times of income—stimulating
the local economy—after the risk of ooding was reduced through ‘build back
better’ policy of watersheds in Mantadia National Park (IRP, 2010c). Third,
it generates co-benets. In Malaysia, the government does not only save an
estimated cost of US$300,000/km (i.e., costs of rock walls/km) by maintaining
the mangrove swamps intact for storm protection and ood control, the latter
also lowers temperature in the area (ibid.).
‘Build back better’ policy is very much in tune with achieving sustainable
development, which, at its core, ensures better quality of life for everyone—now and
for generations to come. The essence of this policy is to address the underlying

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