The day after

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Japan which has helped many countries including Pakistan whenever they have faced the wrath of nature is now dealing with the after-effects of the strongest tumbler recorded in its history. Despite the intensity of the quake, the losses to life and structures would have been minimum on account of the pre-emptive measures taken during the 1980s if the tumbler was not followed by a devastating tsunami. In the coastal cities in the north, the waves swept away hundreds of homes, factories, civil structures and vehicles. The day after, roads in the quake-hit area were still impassable and cellphones and power remained down. Amongst the most serious after-effects is the danger being posed by the affected nuclear plants. With their cooling systems breaking down, radiation has surged to around 1,000 times the normal level in the control room of one reactor. This has happened despite Japan adhering to high engineering standards. A state of emergency was declared on Saturday for five nuclear reactors at two quake-stricken power plants. This has generated concerns in other countries with nuclear reactors, including the US, about their vulnerability.

Japan has an efficient government, a strong civil society and is a highly disciplined country. It will therefore soon bounce back to normalcy, leaving the impact of the two whammies behind. There is however a need on the part of other countries in Asia to learn from the safety measures that considerably reduced the destruction resulting from the fifth biggest quake in the world. This is all the more necessary for countries like Pakistan who are situated on geological fault lines or colliding tectonic plates. As it turned into a highly industrialised country, Japan developed strict engineering standards to regulate the construction of infrastructure and buildings in general. It will draw the required lessons from the present disaster and develop measures to deal with the devastation of tsunamis also. In the case of Pakistan, there is a dire need on the part of the government to specify building standards in big cities like Karachi which happen to be in the seismic zone. An exercise of the sort was undertaken by relief agencies after the 2005 quake in the affected areas but was not followed by any firm measures by the government.

Japan deserves worldwide sympathy combined with support and assistance that only the highly developed countries can provide. The US which has a military base on one of the Japanese islands is best situated to help in the relief activity. Along with Europe, it can also help ensure the safety of its nuclear installations.