On Monday, 15 August 2011, UNU Rector Konrad Osterwalder held a meeting to brief United Nations University staff members in Tokyo on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to Japan last week. In his role as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the highest ranking UN official based in Japan, Rector Osterwalder accompanied the Secretary-General during his visit as part of the UN delegation.
The UN Secretary-General’s 7–9 August visit to Japan was made at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Mr. Ban held discussions with Japanese officials, including Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and visited the devastated “triple disaster” (earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident) zone in Fukushima prefecture.
The Secretary-General met with students of Fukushima Minami High School and with displaced families residing in the Azuma Sogo Sports Park and Evacuation Center. He also visited the tsunami-ravaged Haragama beach area in Soga city, about 40 kilometres north of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
Today, some five months after the 11 March disaster, more than 23,000 people have been declared dead or missing, and another 80,000 or more still reside in temporary housing.
The Secretary-General brought a message of international solidarity, assuring the students and evacuees that “the United Nations and the world are behind you”.
In his briefing to UNU staff, Rector Osterwalder said he was especially moved by the delegation’s visit to the evacuation centre, which shelters hundreds of people — many of whom have lost not only their homes but their jobs as well, or have been bereaved of family members or friends. These evacuees are living still in small, cardboard-walled cubicles, sleeping on mattresses atop cardboard beds, and have few amenities or possessions. The Rector, like the Secretary-General, expressed his “admiration for the courage and persistence of those who have lived through this catastrophe”.
The Rector noted that, when asked what they needed most to carry on with recovery efforts, some Fukushima government officials said their goal was to enable as many persons as possible to return, as quickly as possible, to their homes inside the nuclear exclusion zone. But to ensure that this can be safely accomplished, they require scientific, fact-based guidelines — for example, about what long-term daily level of radiation exposure is safe for the health of elementary school children. But such guidelines do not yet exist.
The Rector also noted that, when asked by the students they visited whether the United Nations would take steps to promote a world without nuclear energy, the Secretary-General emphasized that it is not the proper role of the United Nations to take a “yes” or “no” position on the issue of nuclear energy. “It is the sovereign right of all States to determine their own stance toward nuclear energy”, Mr. Ban said, so this is a question that must be addressed by national governments and regional consensus.
The Secretary-General stressed, however, that the United Nations does “take the issue of nuclear safety and security very seriously”. Mr. Ban noted that he already has commissioned a report by experts from across the UN system on the implications of the Fukushima disaster, and in September a high-level conference of officials from around the world will be convened in New York to discuss the report and international cooperation on nuclear safety and security.
Mr. Ban expressed high expectations that “the Japanese Government will contribute positively and constructively to the success” of the conference. In the same context, he also said that he welcomes “the Japanese Government’s initiative … to convene a high-level meeting next year [and] convene the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015”.
In his briefing, the Rector said, based on the UN delegation’s meeting with Japanese government officials, it is evident that, despite the 11 March tragedies, Japan remains committed to providing support for the development and security of others in need around the world.
In a statement after his meeting with Prime Minister Kan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his “sincere appreciation to the Japanese Government for their very generous support for the people in the Horn of Africa” and reported that “we also discussed how the United Nations and Japan can work to build peace and security around the world, particularly in Africa”.