Youth participation in Disaster Risk Reduction

Marina Matsui is a One Young World Ambassador from Japan who is passionate about interfaith and intercommunity dialogue. Her language skills have allowed her to work as a translator for numerous international events, one of which took her to areas of Japan affected by the 2011 earthquake.

The Great East Japan Earthquake

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake was recorded 70 kilometres off Japan's Eastern coast. This was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since records began in 1900. It triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40 metres and the wall of water travelled nearly 10 kilometres inland. It was so powerful that it shifted the entire earth off its axis by several centimetres.

Four years later, on 11 March 2015, I was standing in front of over 200 youth delegates from all over the world, leading a prayer for the 16,000 people who lost their lives in the disaster. I was the MC for the memorial event of the Children and Youth Forum in the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Our mission was to educate other young people on the lessons that Japan had learned from the disaster.

Before it happened, everyone in Japan thought that we had the best disaster precautions in the world. But as this event showed, there is no such thing as a "perfect preparation". By sharing the challenges and frustrations of Disaster Risk Reduction techniques, we wanted to positively affect the global decision making process and enhance international DRR activities.

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Spreading the message

I am neither an expert in the Disaster Risk Reduction field or a victim of the disaster, but I had the ability to use my language skills to bridge Japan's experiences with the world. During the youth forum, I was part of a delegation of 200 young people who visited Minamisanriku, a town devastated by the tsunami. I translated the testimonies of a group of local girls who established a "Kataribe" (storytelling) group to share their experiences.

They spoke about the starvation, depopulation and trauma in the wake of the tsunami. Their town will be destroyed by government authorities and turned into a large park that acts as a natural barrier to future tsunamis. Even though their hometown will no longer exist, they want their stories to live on. They travel across Japan to raise awareness of post-disaster issues.

A local theatre group also attended the forum and performed a play about the people affected by the disaster. The actors see the disaster as an integral part of their life stories, so by repeating its story, they can come to terms with it more easily.

“Of course, we want the audience to learn about our disaster experiences, but more than that, we perform this drama to make our stories part of a historical legacy. It really helps us a lot to heal our hearts and now, I do not hesitate to think back to the disaster”.

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Different dialogues create solutions

These actors have different perspectives from the girls in Minamisanriku. And the hundreds of speakers, panelists and volunteers from around the world had experienced different recovery processes, and had varying opinions on best practice for Disaster Risk Reduction. I was happy to remove the language barriers that stopped them from sharing their stories.

At the end of the DRR forum, the First Lady of Japan, Mrs. Akie Abe, said that "The younger generation have a better approach to decision making because many adults make decisions limited by social norms and rules." Many young leaders at the event were in complete agreement with her.

There is no absolute solution to preventing disasters. But we need to have forums where we can discuss different approaches that allow nations to apply their own best practices, and find solutions that suit their needs. Knowledge needs to be spread globally, so that we can reduce the number of victims of unforeseen disasters. Young people have a particularly important part to play, as we inherit the social mores and institutions of previous generations. By sharing dialogues from different disasters, we as young people can put pressure on our leaders to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

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