David Rothkopf: The Lessons of Japan's Disaster and the Losses It Did and Did Not Produce





[David Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and President and CEO of Garten Rothkopf.]

The images from Japan are both horrifying and irresistibly compelling. Tragedy unfolds in instants. Lives are swept away, fortunes dashed. Black waves sweep ocean-going freighters down city streets. Power plants explode. Entire cities are seemingly wiped off the map....

Perhaps 10,000 lives were lost in this disaster. That is harrowing. But almost 25 times as many were lost to a smaller earthquake in unprepared, impoverished Haiti ... an earthquake that did not produce the added damage of a tsunami. Similarly, Chile's earthquake of almost the same magnitude as this Japanese event cost "only" a few hundred lives ... but 1.5 million were impacted and it is clear that as in Japan the combination of good planning, exacting standards and the availability of resources saved thousands of lives if not many more.

Japan's prime minister has already called this crisis the greatest facing Japan since the Second World War. Given the awesome economic and political challenges facing Japan over the past two decades not to mention the Kobe earthquake of 1995 which claimed almost 6,500 lives, that places the scale of this disaster in perspective. And clearly, the still unfolding nature of the problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plants raises the specter of even more grievous consequences....



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