Thursday, 28 March 2013

Japan raises specter of more devastating quake

The Nankai Trough extends for hundred of kilometers parallel with the Japanese coast, off heavily populated areas south of Tokyo. A new report has issued a chilling warning of what a major quake in the trough would mean.

An earthquake in the Nankai Trough could be on a scale 10 times that of the disaster that befell Tohoku in March 2011.

More worryingly, experts warn that a mega-quake is overdue.

A little over two years after vast stretches of northeastern Japan were laid waste by the worst natural disaster to strike Japan in living memory, killing close to 19,000 people, a 400-page study has warned that a far more serious threat lies brooding just off the coast.

A report compiled by the Central Disaster Management Council, as a direct result of the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake of two years ago, predicts that a magnitude-9 quake in the volatile Nankai Trough could trigger a tsunami as much as 30 meters high that could kill 320,000 people.

The disaster would destroy road and rail links the length of the country. The tsunami would pulverize buildings that had already been weakened by the tremor. Infrastructure would be wiped out for hundreds of kilometers along the coast and the projected cost in terms of the damage wrought on the country is 220 trillion yen (1.84 trillion euros).

Because the industrialized zone that runs south from Tokyo through Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and Hiroshima would bear the brunt of the disaster, the nation's economic activity would slump by as much as 45 trillion yen in the year following the quake.

Nuclear plant fears

Given the damage the 2011 tsunami caused to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, there is particular concern about the impact a second major natural disaster could have on the atomic energy plants that dot the coast of the threatened area. Utilities companies say they are reassessing the safety of their facilities and improving defenses and resistance, but the Japanese public is skeptical given the absolute promises that were made about the safety of the nation's reactors before March 2011.

After providing the stark facts of the situation in a country that is used to living with earthquakes, the experts sought to calm public fears by pointing out that such a major mega-quake "only occurs at a frequency of less than once every 1,000 years."

That caveat, however, is of little comfort to people in the zone likely to be most seriously impacted - particularly with memories of the Great East Japan Earthquake so fresh in everyone's minds.

"I fear it will have a far bigger impact than the 2011 disaster," Keiji Doi, director of the Earthquake Prediction Division of the Japan Meteorological Agency, told Deutsche Welle.

'Sooner or later'

"The Japanese government has for many years been monitoring earthquake activity and crustal movement in a number of areas, including the Nankai Trough," he said. "This area is critically important because through history there is evidence of repeated large earthquakes - of magnitude 8.5 and larger - so we anticipate there will be another sooner or later."
Technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, but has not evolved to the point at which Doi and his team can accurately predict an exact location for the slip in the earth's crust that will cause the devastation or when that might happen.

It could happen tomorrow, he admits. It might not strike for another five years. The only certainty is that it will happen.

"We are particularly concerned about the stretch of the trough off Shizuoka Prefecture and we are hoping that we might get some warning of a big quake with a precursor," he said.

Just how much warning may be forthcoming is not clear, but the Japanese government has reacted rapidly to the findings of the panel and added a scenario of a massive Nankai Trough quake to the annual earthquake exercises that millions of Japanese take part in across the country every year.

Anniversary of 1923

The drills are timed to coincide with the anniversary of the massive Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which struck with a magnitude of 7.9 just off Tokyo, lasted at least 4 minutes and caused as many as 142,800 deaths.

From this year, the simulations will require the national and local governments to set up task forces to handle the aftermath of the disaster. Volunteers will act as injured victims and be transported by the emergency services to hospitals for treatment. As well as medical teams, the exercise will coordinate the reactions of the police, the fire service and the Self-Defense Forces.

Efforts to mitigate the coming crisis can only go so far, the Yomiuri newspaper said in an editorial after the government announced its plans.

"The important thing is to put in place as many 'disaster mitigation' preparations as possible," it said.

"The central government and local municipalities likely to be affected by the disaster should review their disaster-management processes based on the latest estimate."

There is also an urgent need to reinforce the network of main roads, railways and airports to ensure emergency teams can access the hardest-hit areas, while buildings that lack quake-resistance should undergo repairs as soon as possible.

"There is no time to waste in getting prepared to handle these disasters," it concluded. "Complacency is not an option."

Thursday 28 March 2013

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Srebrenica: 18 years after the genocide

50 percent of more than 8,000 victims of the Srebrenica Genocide have been identified up to now and 18 years still need to identify all the victims, said mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, APA’s correspondent reports from Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica Genocide is one of the bloodiest and painful events of the war in Yugoslavia, 1991-1995. Srebrenica enclave proclaimed by the UN Security Council as "safety zone" in April 1993 has been occupied by the Bosnian Serb Army. In 1995, more than 8,300 Bosnian Muslims were killed there.

The Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, officially known as the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide was erected in 2003. The names of 8372 victims were engraved on the gravestones at the memorial-cemetery complex. The victims also include men at the age of 13-77. “May revenge become justice. May mothers' tears become prayers. That Srebrenica never happens again. To no one and nowhere!” were inscribed on the memorial.

The bodies of 500-600 victims, who were identified, are buried at the cemetery every year. During the war, in order to cover the crime the Bosniaks’ bodies were buried in different places. So the opening of mass graves and identification of remains of the bodies are still being continued. Unidentified remains are being kept in a morgue in Tuzla city.

High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko believes that the burial of the remains of corpses is very important for the relatives of genocide victims: “A woman who has lost her children and husband in Srebrenica told me that she could sleep better after her family had been buried.”

Srebrenica Today

Totally 7000 people are living in Srebrenica, where the population was 36666 before the war. The city mayor said that unemployment rate is 43 % in Srebrenica. Thus young people are leaving the city. The local economy had based on the extraction of natural resources before the war. However, the war has destroyed the industrial zone.

"There is no incentive for people to live here," Camil Durakovic said.

Some of the Bosniaks returned Srebrenica and the surrounding areas after the events in 1995. 78% of the population of Srebrenica had been the Bosniaks, 9% - the Serbs before the war. About 4 000 Bosniaks are living in the city now, the rest of the population are the Serbs. The mayor said that the Muslims begun to return the city in 2003 and since then no incidents have been recorded between the Bosniaks and the Serbs.

“Those who committed the atrocities no longer live here and we have no problem with innocent Serbs. We only regret for this genocide and the fact that it resulted in hostility among the people. The war can change nothing. All parties have the same tragedy, because both sides suffered losses.

“The people in Srebrenica have good individual relations, because they have a tradition of coexistence,” – said Dragana Jovanovic, the director of the Friends of Srebrenica non-governmental organization. He notes that politicians take advantage of the Srebrenica events for additional votes. In order to hide any conflict or problem, they raise this problem.

According to Camil Durakovic, today, a Bosniak Muslim woman, who lost her husband and four children in the war, can quietly drink coffee with her Serb neighbor: “Of course, it took time to understand how to coexist. Once, first buses returning to Srebrenica after the war were stoned.”

Issues on punishment for culprits, compensation and property

According to Srebrenica Mayor, the main problem is that most perpetrators of the genocide would never be punished: “The number of perpetrators was large and proving it in the court is difficult. Some commanders signing decrees on murder have been brought to justice, others’ trials are going on, and some of the perpetrators have not been arrested yet.”

Bosniak resident of Priedor city of which Muslim population have mostly suffered during the war Zinaida Khosic considers that the punishment of a perpetrator is important for each victim of the crime: “Not all culprits in murder have been judged. I believe that most of them would not be judged in the Hague.”

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia recognized the crime committed by the Serbs in Srebrenica as genocide in January, 2012.

The leadership of Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been found guilty of manslaughter in Srebrenica in 2003. However, the Serbs are still calling it as “serious war crime” and rarely use the phrase genocide.

The Serbian Parliament condemned the slaughters in Srebrenica and apologized to the relatives of the victims.

“Compensation has not been considered for the relatives of the Srebrenica victims and the issue on returning properties of the persons displaced due to Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict has been solved,” the city mayor said. Bosniak Fatima Orlovic displaced from Srebrenica is still suing for her lands. A church was constructed on her lands. Fatima Orlovic refuses to live in other place and demands restoration of her property right.

Srebrenica has managed to overcome hostility resulted with the killing of thousands of civilians and confrontation between the two communities. The city continues to bury its killed residents and still hopes the real perpetrators will be punished.

Thursday 28 March 2013

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Ten children still missing after Mae Surin refugee camp fire

About 10 children are still missing in the aftermath of the devastating inferno at Mae Surin refugee camp which has left 37 dead, activists say.

Ben Mendoza, director of the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (Coerr), said yesterday authorities and activists are still searching for the missing children.

Camp residents included 1,052 children and youth who were affected by the blaze _ 245 under five years old, and 807 aged five to 18 years old _ he told a forum on the fire held yesterday.

Christine Petrie, director of International Red Cross programmes in Thailand, said the agency wants to ensure the refugees continue to receive the same services as before the tragedy.

Local bodies and NGOs are banding together to improve fire safety measures following the fire at the camp in Khun Yuam district on Friday.

Benjawan Maliwan, field manager of Coerr, said non-profit organisations in the area would discuss with local authorities and Karenni refugee representatives ways to improve the camp's fire prevention system.

The inferno killed 37 Karen and Karenni refugees and injured more than 100 people at the camp.

Coerr runs a disaster risk reduction programme funded by the Japanese embassy since last year, offering refugees a fire prevention training course in collaboration with the Interior Ministry's Disaster Mitigation and Prevention (DMP) office in Mae Hong Son.

Firefighting apparatus such as fire extinguishers, buckets and water tanks have been stored in small fire stations in each zone of the camp.

The refugees have set up their own disaster emergency prevention committee which encourages households to prepare bags of water and sand.

On Friday, refugees rang the bell and broadcast a warning to alert the camp's members at an early stage of the fire, which started at the first house in Zone 1 of the camp. However, Ms Benjawan said the fire was more devastating than anyone expected, with factors such as strong winds hampering rescue efforts.

Solutions to improve fire prevention may include boosting human resources, increasing firefighting apparatus and changing building materials to less flammable substances.

Sawang Momdee, chief of the Mae Hong Song DMP office, said the refugee camp was located in a restricted area where delivery of aid was difficult.

Mr Sawang said permission from a provincial office must be sought to gain access to the camp.

Chanchai Srisatian, chief of Khun Yuam district office, said the office had no budget to support the refugees. "We can only provide knowledge [on preventing and managing fires] to the refugees," he said.

The master plan to improve the fire prevention and management system includes rebuilding houses with a buffer zone between each building to reduce the risk of a fire spreading quickly.

Thursday 28 March 2013

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Google Street View sends cameras into Namie, an abandoned town in Fukushima where once 21,000 people lived

It is a nuclear-era Mary Celeste, a town left virtually untouched since its 21,000 residents fled two years ago.

Rubble and roof tiles still litter the streets from the huge earthquake that dislodged them on 11 March, 2011.

A ship lies beached beside a main road, washed up by the tsunami that pummeled the coastline less than an hour later.

Homes and schools sit empty and abandoned, poisoned by the invisible radioactive payload from the nearby Daiichi nuclear plant that settled over everything here in the days after the Fukushima meltdown began.

Namie in Fukushima Prefecture will always be synonymous with the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Like the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, it is a nuclear ghost town, gradually being reclaimed by nature.

After the tsunami, bodies lay here undiscovered for a month because nobody could be found to retrieve them. Government officials concealed the spread of radioactivity, leaving the town’s citizens to be poisoned. Today, Tomotsu Baba, its mayor, serves a population that has been scattered across Japan, driven out by contamination. “Many want to know the current state of the disaster area,” he says. “They wonder what’s become of it and feel a great need to see it for themselves.”

Now they can. Google Street View is giving Namie’s nuclear refugees a virtual tour of their uninhabitable streets and homes.

The company responded to the mayor’s request by sending its camera-equipped cars to the town to create a panorama of stitched digital images. For the first time since the disaster began, the town’s residents can see what they left behind – most have only been allowed back under police escort for a few minutes since March 2011 to pick up vital belongings.

“It’s wonderful but scary at the same time,” says Yukiko Kameya, from the nearby ghost town of Futaba. “Some of us want to put that part of our lives out of our minds, but there are many who need to stay in touch.”

Google had to get permission to enter the 20-km no-go zone around the ruined hulk of the Daiichi plant. Police checkpoints guard the entry and exit points to the area. Most of the roughly 120,000 people who once lived inside the zone believe it will be years, perhaps decades before they can return.

Mayor Baba hopes the images will serve another purpose. “I imagine there are people around the world who also want to see the tragic aftermath of the nuclear accident,” he says in a video released to mark the Google project, translated by Japanese news blog RocketNews 24. “So I hope these images reach the rest of the world through Street View.

He says he wants the imagery to become “a permanent record of what happened” to his town. "Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forbearers, and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children.”

“The townspeople are scattered all around the country,” he said. “This way they can remember, and maybe hold on to some hope of returning.”

In a blog post accompanying several images taken from Street View, he said he wanted the world to understand the impact of the nuclear accident. “Here is one of Namie-machi’s main streets, which we often used for outdoor events like our big Ten Days of Autumn festival,” he wrote under a shot of a deserted road lined with shuttered businesses, one of its lanes blocked by a collapsed wooden building.

“Ever since the March disaster, the rest of the world has been moving forward, and many places in Japan have started recovering,” he added. “But in Namie-machi time stands still.”

Google’s technology and ubiquitous approach to documenting the world have made it a widely used source of disaster-related information. Google Earth satellite photos showed how the earthquake transformed Japan’s northern Pacific coastline, and environmental activists used Google Maps to track radiation hotspots.

Parts of Namie will become accessible again next month under a revision of the evacuation order. But residents will be able to return only for a few hours at a time, a consequence of still-elevated radiation levels, and prospects for permanent resettlement are dim.

Other Fukushima towns are trying to preserve what local ties they can among evacuated residents. Tomioka, a town south of Namie known for its cherry blossoms, is inviting residents back for spring blossom-viewing parties after its evacuation order was partially relaxed this month.

Few doubt that keeping residents from drifting away permanently will be difficult, however. While Mr Baba said he was hopeful that some would return to Namie one day, his description of the Street View project suggested its purpose was at least partly to serve as a memorial.

“Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forebears, and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children,” he wrote in the blog. To the FT he said: “We hope young people who have left will remember their home town and return sometimes, even if it’s only to tend to their ancestors’ graves.”

Click here for photos of the deserted town

Thursday 28 March 2013

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At least 24 dead in Peru bus crash

At least 24 people, most of them mine workers, were killed Wednesday when their bus plunged into a ravine in southern Peru, local police said.

Another 18 people were injured, according to a provisional toll given by a highway police official in the city of Arequipa, located 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of the capital Lima.

Police warned the toll may rise as more bodies could be trapped under the wreckage of the vehicle, which rescue personnel has so far failed to move.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known, police said.

According to reports, the public bus was privately operated by a company called Andares.

Arequipa, also known as the White City, is around 1,000km (620 miles) south of the capital Lima and is the second most populated city in Peru.

Most of those aboard the bus were mine workers headed from Orcopampa district to Arequipa, where they planned to take part in religious festivities leading up to Easter on Sunday.

The prosecutor Cahuana Leonardo arrived at the scene by the medical examiner to record the minutes of the 24 individual bodies.

Peru's National Police Chief of Emergency Unit in Arequipa, Commander Raul Acosta, said firefighters and civilians worked together to rescue the injured and recover the bodies.

Hugo Zea, Arequipa's Transportation Regional Director, told local television channel Canal N, that the bus has had a license to operate for three years and even had a GPS system. The cause of the accident has not been determined.

Reckless driving due to speeding or sleeplessness, as well as mechanical failures, are the main causes of accidents in Peru, where an estimated 3,500 people die each year in traffic accidents.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

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