Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Memorial Event for the Great East Japan Earthquake
14 March 2012
Ambassador Yoshikawa, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends:
Welcome to this memorial conference for the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The triple shock that hit Japan on 11 March 2011 - combining an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident - was the largest natural disaster to have ever taken place in Japan, and one of the most serious in world history. Its costs in human lives, but also its economic and social impacts, have been enormous.
The loss and pain have been immense, but the spirit with which Japan has faced this crisis has been even greater. Japan has showed the world how a crisis can be turned into a catalyst for unity and improvement. As the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes said once: “a crisis is only catastrophic when it does not produce an offspring that detaches from it and redeems it.”
I invite you to reflect on the sheer dimension of these events and the impressive recovery effort, and to think of some of the lessons that we have learned.
Motohide Yoshikawa, Ambassador of Japan to OECD - Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General - Rintaro Tamaki, OECD Deputy Secretary-General.
The Great East Japan Earthquake had a colossal economic impact.
The disasters of 3/11 did not only take the lives of nearly 19,000 people (including those who are still missing) and injured another 6,000, they also had a widespread impact on the Japanese economy.
The damage to vital social, housing and fixed capital infrastructure required costly repair. Disruptions to power and supply chains further burdened the economy, drastically impacting production. Significant damage to nuclear plants reduced the power supply. Auto part production was disrupted, slowing car manufacturing throughout the world. As a result, Japan’s GDP experienced a contraction of -0.3% in 2011.
The shock-waves of these disruptions quickly transmitted into the global economy, reflecting the great importance of Japan in global value chains as a producer of highly sophisticated parts and components that are used in key industries, such as semi-conductor production for motor vehicles across the globe. Factories affected by the earthquake had to close or shut down production, sending global shock-waves that had an impact on plants in the US and Europe.
In spite of all this damage, the Japanese economy recovered impressively fast.
The Japanese people greeted tragedy with pride, dignity, perseverance and will power.
The recovery of supply chains in the car and electronic device industries was unexpectedly quick. Consumer and business confidence rebounded rapidly, contributing to increases in private spending.
The efforts of every member of Japanese society were matched with resolution and effective support by the government. The Japanese government committed 19 trillion yen (4% of GDP) over five years as part of the reconstruction efforts. As a result, less than a year after the disaster, GDP has almost reached its pre-earthquake level. Moving forward, and in spite of the headwinds that the global economic recovery is facing, we estimate that the Japanese economy will grow by around 2% in 2012.
This has been an amazing come-back. Ambassador Yoshikawa, please transmit our admiration and solidarity to the government and people of Japan.
The Japanese recovery was also supported by a remarkable international response.
As the colossal impact of the crisis became apparent, international support came pouring in. Assistance was offered from 163 countries and regions. Rescue teams were dispatched from 29 countries, regions and international organisations. Governmental assistance was met by pledges from a myriad of international organisations, private companies and individual citizens; all grieving Japan’s devastating loss.
The OECD feels proud to have been part of this international response. Just a few weeks after the disaster, we presented our Economic Survey of Japan in Tokyo, connecting part of the report and its recommendations to the recovery effort. We produced a document, pooling expertise, tools and concrete proposals from different OECD Directorates on how we could support Japan’s reconstruction in the medium and long terms. We also pulled together a collection of other countries’ experiences on educational responses to natural disasters.
But we are not only helping, we are also learning.
It is very important that we work together to learn as much as we can from this tragedy and better prepare for other possible unforeseen natural events.
In fact, the complexity of this event -- involving an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear accident -- illustrates challenges for modern disaster risk management that all countries can learn from.
Countries need to take a broader approach towards the identification of extraordinary risks in ordinary times. Where are the possible interconnections that could amplify disaster damages? What control measures, such as system diversification or redundancies, can be put in place to address them? This level of comprehensive risk assessment is still missing in our countries.
To make necessary preparations in today’s rapidly changing risk environment, countries need to take a coordinated whole-of-government approach, which takes account of complex interconnections and integrates the private sector in assessment, preparedness, response and recovery.
We can learn a lot from the Great East Japan Earthquake and from Japan’s efforts to improve risk management. And share all our cutting edge national and local experiences with Japan. The OECD is ready to promote this valuable exchange.
Ambassador Yoshikawa, Ladies and Gentlemen:
On 21 April 2011, almost one year ago, I pronounced a speech in Tokyo with a title that read “Japan will bounce back quickly from the Great East Earthquake”. Today, I am so pleased to confirm that this assertion was right. Japan is indeed coming back steadily.
However, this achievement should not translate into complacency. Japan has to keep its recovery effort moving at full speed, implementing reforms to address its multiple structural challenges, like securing a stronger, cleaner and fairer growth, reducing its fiscal deficit and public debt and promoting social cohesion.
The OECD stands ready to help Japan address these challenges and turn the Great East Japan Earthquake into a rebirth, a new beginning of shared and harmonious prosperity for all the Japanese people.
Thank you very much.
OECD Memorial Conference for the Great East Japan Earthquake, 14 March 2012