On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the Island of Honshu, Japan with its epicenter in the Sendai province. This earthquake triggered a 12 meter high tsunami event along the eastern coast of Honshu. The combined force of these two catastrophic events and further exacerbated by a continuous cycle of daily noticeable earthquakes that have measured between 4.5 and 7.1 in intensity as defined by the Richter scale has caused significant damage throughout the nation. The degree of damage suffered by the cities, villages and industrial facilities of Japan is significant and Japan’s economy was severely affected. In the days following the event Japan suffered significant damage, disruptions, costs and risks.
The Bank of Japan had to inject nearly $300 billion during the first few days following the catastrophe to support business and the economy, whole communities and their supporting facilities such as the Sendai, Japan airport were virtually destroyed, casualties in terms of confirmed loss of life has totaled 10,000 mark as of Friday, April 9th and was still climbing two weeks after the magnitude-9 quake struck off the northeastern coast and unleashed a cascade of disasters.
As of today, hundreds of thousands of survivors are still camped out in temporary shelters. Some 660,000 households do not have water, more than 209,000 do not have electricity. Damage could rise as high as $310 billion, the government said, making it the most costly natural disaster on record.
The total death toll from the disaster could rise much higher as Japan’s National Police Agency said more than 17,400 people are still missing. Those tallies may overlap, but police from one of the hardest-hit prefectures, Miyagi, estimate that the deaths will top 15,000 in that region alone.
In addition to the direct human and economic costs from the event and resulting disruptions, Japan faces significant threats to the integrity of institutions due to the significant damage sustained by both its nuclear power plant complexes, oil refineries, petrochemical facilities and industrial chemical factories. It appears to be a certainty that the failure of several nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power facility will occur and very soon, and that there could be a substantial release of radioactive material including very dangerous and deadly isotopes of Plutonium, Cesium, Iodine and Strontium. Given the proximity of Fukushima to Japan’s major cities, particularly Tokyo (population approximately 13.7 million in the city, 35 million in the metropolitan area) (located 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo) approximately 80% of the population of Japan (total population is approximately 135 million) will likely suffer some level of injury, both temporary and permanent, and death either immediately or far sooner than the victims’ expected lifetimes.
Japan’s strong and well-developed institutions play an essential role in the country’s internal success. These institutions have formed the backbone of Japan’s efforts to assert itself as a constructive, respected but peaceful leader in the international arena. During normal times the cooperative spirit between the government and business has supported the strong growth and leading position that Japan has historically earned. However, the recent catastrophe and collateral damage has exposed Japan’s and its major institutions to a high degree of impairment and this has increased the level of risk in the global community. If Japan’s institutions were to fail because they were not properly supported by a resilient infrastructure then both Japan’s ability to service its internal needs, and more seriously deliver on its obligations to the world community, then there would be significant consequences that would encompass world economic disruptions, business failures in the short run and other costly gaps in terms of world political leadership, systems, social processes, etc. which are valuable although not necessarily in discreetly quantifiable way.
Given the extremely fragile state of its nuclear facilities, particularly Fukushima, Japan is highly likely to sustain long term impairment of approximately 70% to 80% of its land, air and water supply. This could force up to 70% of Japan’s industrial capacity to be shut down. Pollution from the release of radioactive particulate matter, particularly Plutonium isotopes and radioactive Cesium and Strontium will render the environment of Japan as hostile and uninhabitable for up to thousands of years.
The importance of Japan’s institutions, the risk to its population and the short time frame remaining before the likely catastrophic event at Fukushima and possibly other nuclear facilities throughout Japan, make the need for Japan to act quickly to develop and implement strategies that will preserve as much of what makes up Japan as possible. A way to do this is to employ the concept of Resilience, which large management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Booz Allen & Hamilton and Accenture are well known as influential leaders in its application. Through Resilience, Japan will be able to ensure the continuity of its institutions and the protection of its population and its way of life despite the likely impairment and even rendering as hostile to all forms of life on Honshu, as well as the connected, contiguous and neighboring Islands that define the geography of the Japanese homeland.