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article imageJapan's 'Great Wall' for tsunami protection questionable

By Karen Graham     Jun 29, 2014 in Environment
Koizumi - Today, in what's left of the village of Koizumi in Miyagi prefecture, home to two-thirds of the 19,000 people who died in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, all you will find is a barren wasteland. Weeds and grass litter an area where houses once stood.
If the Japanese government has the final say, this strip of land, part of a 230-mile stretch of coastline in north-east Japan will be made tsunami-proof with the addition of hundreds of massive, towering walls, according to the Guardian.
The project, dubbed the "Great Wall of Japan" by opponents, is massive in more than just words. In a country where sea walls are a way of life for this earthquake and tsunami-prone country anyway, a project expected to run to over $8 billion is extraordinarily large and almost mind-boggling.
While the building of the proposed 440 walls in the worst hit prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate will be a boon to construction companies with friends in the governing Liberal Democratic Party, the government didn't plan on the amount of opposition it is seeing.
Masahito Abe is a retired school teacher from Koizumi, who built his home on a hillside 20 years ago, because he feared a dreaded tsunami. He thinks the government should do more than just build a wall. He says, "We want the government to change the shape of the coast, and redesign it so a tsunami would have minimal impact, not just build a lot of walls."
The 1,800 residents of Koizumi are spread out over eight different housing sites. It is questionable now, with dissension growing over the wall project, whether the village will ever get rebuilt. Additionally, at at the end of the year, the displaced villagers will be moving into new homes. The new homes are in an area carved out of a mountain top two miles from the coast.
Mr. Abe seems to think the idea of building a 48 foot wall here at a cost of $230 million to protect a bunch of rice paddies is ludicrous. "It's madness," said Abe to Guardian reporter Justin McCurry. Mr. Abe also thinks people have been left with few options, saying many of his neighbors say the walls have already been planned, so why interfere.
Christian Dimmer, an assistant professor in the urban studies department at Tokyo University, says he agrees with Abe's reasoning. He points out that with the government offering people a premium price for their property, this will give them the money to rebuild their lives. "In Koizumi there are people who are happy to sell their land for seawall construction," Dimmer said to the Guardian's McCurry.
Dimmer went on to explain the feeling of "false-security" sea walls afford people. Detractors of the walls say they will hurt the environment and cut tourism, while the majority of people feel they are a safety measure. But, said Dimmer: "Sea walls have the potential to save lives wherever they are built, provided the tsunami does not exceed the simulated height and run-up pressures. The problem is that you can't predict how high the next tsunami will be, so sea walls can never give you 100 percent security. There will always be a risk, no matter how high you build them," as the Guardian reports.
It has been estimated that it will take Japan's taxpayers a quarter-century to pay for the construction of the sea walls, and the walls could eventually end up covering around 9,000 miles of coast line. Then there is the problem of selling the idea to each locality at risk for tsunami destruction. Until the government can get everyone's backing, no construction will begin.
"I don't want the rest of the world to think of Japan as a concrete fortress," said Masahito Abe, according to the Guardian's McCurry. "The tsunami was a force of nature, so I can forgive it for the destruction and misery it caused. But for humans to ruin their own environment … I can never forgive that."
More about Japan, Tsunami, sea walls, Great wall, Miyagi Prefecture
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