“Standing Strong Again: Rebuilding the Fishing Community of Kesennuma” was the title of the opening video for the Post-Earthquake Rebuilding Support Symposium, held on Sunday, 22 May 2011. The afternoon was filled with presentations from Japanese academics and UNU researchers, followed by a panel discussion. The short video documentary showed the first efforts of the residents of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture to rebuild their community and businesses after the devastating tsunami.
The opening remarks were delivered by Mr. Ryu Matsumoto, the Minister of the Environment, and Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, Rector of United Nations University and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Dr. Osterwalder in his speech gave assurances that UNU will stand by the residents of Tohoku and do everything possible to support the people of Japan.
Professor Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, founder of the non-profit organisation Mori wa Umi no Koibito, in his keynote speech addressed the concept of satoyama and satoumi and the idea that the “sea is longing for the forest”, which promotes the natural ecological link between forests and the ocean. Besides his professorial activities at Kyoto University, Prof. Hatakeyama runs a marine fishery that enables him to combine theory with real world practice. In his presentation, titled Post Earthquake Rebuilding: The Link Between Forest and Sea, he emphasized the important but often overlooked connection between the forest and the sea, human habitats, biodiversity, and the revival of agricultural forestry industries and fisheries.
Following Professor Hatakeyama’s presentation, specialists and policymakers from the Fisheries Department and Forestry Agency shared their views on how to rebuild Tohoku and discussed proposals to support the people of disaster stricken regions. One concrete example, presented by Mr. Tsunao Watanabe from the Ministry of the Environment, focused on the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas, particularly focusing on the New Sanriku Fukko National Park. UNU Vice-Rector Professor Kazuhiko Takeuchi, who chaired the afternoon panel discussion, pointed out the need for landscape revitalization in the process of post-disaster rebuilding efforts.
“Perhaps we were too focused on material society, and we forgot the importance of respect for nature,” stated Professor Emeritus Masaru Tanaka from Kyoto University in his presentation about the Kesennuma-Karakuwa Model. “We are all living on the same planet, living in sato, connected by rivers or ground water. This may have been the message of this disaster.”
Concluding the panel discussion, Prof. Takeuchi emphasized the importance of developing policies for disaster preparation and disaster recovery based on human networks at various levels, the concept of the blessings of nature, and biodiversity. He also mentioned that Japan’s experience of overcoming the disaster and rebuilding could be used by the international community, and will be of particular interest to developing countries.
The symposium was organized by the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP), the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of the Environment. This event was part of a series of events for the UN Decade on Biodiversity and the International Year of Forests, and was held on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2011.