x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A model of courage in face of disaster

A worsening nuclear catastrophe still looms. Expatriates are leaving in droves and thousands of people are homeless. The death toll continues to rise. And now, heavy snow threatens further suffering as rescue operations stall.

A worsening nuclear catastrophe still looms. Expatriates are leaving in droves and thousands of people are homeless. The death toll continues to rise. And now, heavy snow threatens further suffering as rescue operations stall. A week after being hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japan's resolve continues to be tested to its limits.

On Wednesday, Emperor Akihito said the country had suffered a tragedy "unprecedented in scale" and admitted he was "deeply worried" about the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

"I hope that those affected by the earthquake will not give up hope and will strive to survive," he said in a rare television address to the nation. "I was greatly moved by the braveness of the survivors who are encouraging themselves in trying to live on through this enormous disaster."

The country's recovery will undoubtedly require aid from the international community, particularly from neighbours like China and South Korea. President Barack Obama also has offered US assistance. Already there are signs that the help from around the world will exceed the efforts that came in the wake of Kobe in 1995, and crucially, it is happening at a much faster rate.

Japan has been through many earthquake-related tragedies before - if not quite on this scale - and emerged a stronger, more secure country, both in terms of infrastructure and economy.

"The Kobe experience stands as a useful reminder of the capacity of Japan's resilient populace to overcome terrible tragedies," Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, notes in an opinion article for The National today.

The latest estimates put the death toll at more than 5,000. While there is still danger on the horizon, it is a credit to Japan's safety precautions that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake has not resulted in a toll similar to the one that followed last year's in Haiti.

Ultimately, the strength of character of the Japanese people will see them through their darkest hour. That fortitude was nowhere more clear than at the heart of the danger. Despite the threat of radiation at Fukushima, 200 volunteers, some of them retirees, were still working in shifts to pump seawater into the plant's overheated reactors.

A country whose people show such bravery and selflessness will surely overcome the challenges set in its way.