Mar 18

I arrive in Japan on Friday March 11th with the realisation that five years ago on this day the giant tsunami hit thousands of miles of coastal landscapes in Japan.  The Guardian article I read on the plane reports that almost 19,000 victims lost their lives and the devastation cost the equivalent of £105bn (McCurry, 2011).  Many children were orphaned and the trauma still sticks to many in the form of flashbacks.  I hear more about the aftermath of the disaster during the workshop I attend on green infrastructure planning and brownfield sites, particularly in relation to the clean-up after the failure of the Fukoshima Nuclear plant. This is astonishing.  The topsoil has been removed from all the agricultural land and gardens; walls, paths and other surfaces have been power hosed or sand blasted and thousands of tree leaves have been collected and bagged ready to be removed.  There are large and orderly piles of bags of the radioactive material.  Long-term disposal of these has not yet been worked out.

In the same paper an article discusses the benefits of a huge tidal energy lagoon proposed for Swansea Bay compared to the power obtainable from the nuclear power plant proposed for Hinkley Point (Mason, 2016).  The third article shows an image of Alconbury in Cambridgeshire where the River Great Ouse overwhelmed its banks. The accompanying article is about the reduction in funding for research related to flood forecasts, warnings and defences.  Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell of the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University suggest that the situation is serious because ‘innovation is the way we can do more with less, and innovation comes from R&D’ (Carrington, 2016, p.13).

What links these three stories for me is the power of water.  Can we harness the power of water and also hope to protect communities from its destructive power?  What are we willing to pay for and how will use the knowledge of research?  Can it help us to build relationships with water that provide greater human and environmental safety?  

Hokusai’s famous image of the 'Great Wave' comes into my mind: it has always seemed like an angry image to me, but it also portrays the contradictions of the beauty and the power of the sea.  Although it is not thought to be an image of a tsunami but of a rogue wave (a freak unpredictable wave occurring out in the open sea), it shows the terrifying potential power of water.   


The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川 Kanagawa-oki nami ura, "In the well of a wave off Kanagawa")



Carrington, D. (2016) Anger over 62% cuts to ‘vital’ research on floods, The Guardian, Friday 11 March 2016, p.13.

Mason, R., (2016) Commit to Swansea tidal energy scheme, ministers urged as deal on Hinkley falters, The Guardian, Friday 11 March 2016, p.29.

McCurry, Justin (2016) Five years on from tsunami, Japan rebuilds but its orphans battle to live with their loss, The Guardian, Friday 11 March 2016, p.21.    

Video of the power of the Tsunami:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uln3NEVn-M0 


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