Japan looks at its ability to soften the impact of disasters after Typhoon Hagibis.
Japan, a nation grimly accustomed to natural disasters, has invested many billions of dollars in a world-class infrastructure meant to soften nature’s wrath. But with the flooding in areas across central and northern Japan in recent days, the country has been forced to examine more deeply the assumptions that underpin its flood control system.
At least 55 levees were breached as Typhoon Hagibis dumped record-breaking rains on Japan last weekend, with more than 70 people dying in the storm and floodwaters hitting more than 10,000 homes.
That is raising a difficult question, for Japan and for the world: Can even the costliest systems be future-proofed in an age of storms made more powerful by climate change?
Yasuo Nihei, a professor of river engineering at the Tokyo University of Science, said that in places around Japan, “we’re observing rain of a strength that we have never experienced. When we look at the costs, I think it’s clear that flood control programs need to be accelerated.”
The heavy investment in infrastructure has not come without a cost. The spending has helped send Japan’s national debt to record highs, as the country has approved many projects that turned out to be minimally effective or, at worst, damaging to the environment.
Engineers are warning that as storms grow in intensity, the government faces diminishing returns as it contemplates raising levees or digging new drainage tunnels.
The changes have forced local governments to revise how they prepare for disasters. Instead of planning for 100-year storms, they are now thinking about more destructive once-in-1000-year disasters.
The New York Times