The Yomiuri Shimbun
The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun's May 15 issue.
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"Wouldn't you like to have some of this, sweetheart?" A mother hopes that by placing some sweets that her fourth-grade daughter loved at the gate of her primary school, the missing girl might come back. Every time she comes to look for her, working through piles of debris and mud, the mother places a piece of cake or some juice at the gate.
During the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 70 percent of the pupils at the municipal Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, died or went missing. Even today, parents are still looking for their loved ones in their own way.
The massive tsunami caused the nearby Kitakamigawa river to rise above the rooftop of the two-story school building and engulf the lines of pupils who were trying to make their way to safety. The school building was destroyed.
The March 11 disaster affected about 6,200 schools, from kindergartens to high schools. More than 200 schools must be either completely rebuilt or undergo major repairs.
If schools are rebuilt based on lessons learned in the latest disaster, the ideal school would be a building at least several stories high constructed solidly enough to also serve as an emergency relief center during a disaster.
Schools should be at least equipped with independent power-generation facilities, emergency toilets and a simple septic tank for sewage. They should also keep emergency stocks of food and blankets, so they can also function as evacuation centers.
If there are public facilities nearby such as hospitals or facilities for the elderly, the school buildings could also become community centers.
Another crucial need is upgrading disaster-management education, which should be geared to each district hit by the recent disaster.
I hope children will acquire not only basic knowledge of how to secure their physical safety during a natural disaster but also the strength to live through the days following one.
(May. 19, 2011)