Stories from the field

Author Nicola Craig Hora

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 8: Post-internship Reflections

With help from the Asia Pacific Foundation and the University of Victoria’s Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, I spent 8 months working for an organization called CITYNET in their project office located in Yokohama, Japan.

It is difficult describing a typical workday because my day to day varied greatly. CITYNET is the largest network of urban stakeholders in the Asia Pacific Region and the Yokohama Project Office works with CITYNET members to implement sustainable development projects. Through the office, urban best practices and resources are shared. The main focus for the office is sharing best practices from Japan, in particular those from Yokohama. Some of the ongoing projects that I helped with included a 5-year disaster resiliency project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency project in the Philippines, an engineer and architect training program in Nepal, and two sustainable resource management projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. My biggest task was putting together a 52-page final report that was distributed to the office’s funding agencies and various members. To create the final report I had to go through 5 years worth of project documents and coordinate with project stakeholders in the Philippines in order to organize all the information needed for the publication. Another role that I had was conducting both qualitative and quantitative research and analyzing data. This data was used to create proposals and in applications for project funding. Day to day I was an extra set of hands and eyes for the office, a typical day didn’t really exist and occasionally I would expect a day to go one way and it would change completely by noon.

I am passionate about creating sustainable urban spaces, in particular facilitating community participation in urban planning processes. My work with CITYNET has shown me the strength of community-based planning and the diverse possibilities of projects. Interning with CITYNET has encouraged me to consider a career in urban planning.

Before I started working in the office I did not have any experience in city-to-city cooperation. I had little understanding of how city-to-city cooperation could work on a local and international level but now I see that it plays an integral role in sustainable development. There is a lot that Japanese cities can share with other cities across the world and I was provided with incredible hands-on experiences with this at CITYNET. I got to visit disaster risk reduction projects and activities in Yokohama and Tokyo including their annual disaster drills, disaster prevention centers, and a volunteer fire station. I also got to see how a large city like Yokohama manages waste. Though many of these activities require large monetary investments, through my internship I learned how they could be adapted inexpensively to different cities across the Asia Pacific Region. My experience as an intern has broadened my worldview and allowed me to see that there are always different approaches that can be taken to tackle similar issues and that we need to go into projects with open minds. Cities across the world are facing similar challenges as they continue to grow. True cooperation is a two-way relationship, and moving forward cities need to work together.

The most challenging thing that I found while working and living in Japan was dealing with the language difference on a daily basis.  Tasks that would be rather simple back home ended up being a lot more difficult because of communication difficulties. Though the majority of office work was conducted in English, I was the only native English speaker so in the office everyone communicated in Japanese. I had studied a little Japanese before going on the internship however it was two years prior and I am nowhere near fluent. Though this was challenging at times it pushed me to continue studying Japanese. Instead of returning home after my internship I will be staying in Japan to study Japanese intensively for 12 months. I hope that I can incorporate my experiences in Japan in my future career. The best advice that I can give to someone considering an internship abroad in a non-English speaking country is to learn as much of the language before your internship starts as timely possible. Even if it is just standard greetings, you will adapt to life in that country much quicker.  

Two realisations from my internship that will stick with me for the rest of my life are the power of communication and the importance of learning different languages. Knowing languages open doors even if all you know are the basics. The world is not full of English speakers and taking the time to learn a language will not only provide you with more opportunities but also give you a better understanding of life in that country. I look forward to continuing my Japanese language studies this year and hopefully I can continue using it in years to come.

Patience and adaptability are two very important qualities to have going into new experiences. Moving to a foreign country will always be challenging and things will always be different. What I’ve learned during my internship is that resisting change will not help you and in the end you will be unhappy. One of the biggest things that I’ve found while living and working outside of Canada is the importance of how you approach differences. Our gut can be to think that things that are different from what we are used toare “weird” but I’ve learned to avoid that word all together.

Participating in this internship has been an integral part of my undergraduate degree. Whether it is a co-op or an internship, I think that every student should strive to participate in some sort of work experience program before they graduate. Internships provide students with invaluable professional and life experiences. They can allow students to consider new career paths and also allow students to realize that certain dream career paths are not for them. Before I interned at CITYNET I was passionate about urban studies but I had very little experience in the field. Through my internship I was exposed to a wide range of urban issues that cities across the Asia Pacific Region are tackling and I was touched by CITYNET member cities’ dedication to creating sustainable urban spaces. To enhance my internship experience I organized a directed studies course on disaster management with a professor at the University of Victoria. This independent research project allowed me to take knowledge from my work at CITYNET and apply it to an academic context. This provided me with a unique perspective of disaster issues and exposed me to the gap between theory and practice.

Funding for internship programs is extremely important because they help foster students’ personal, academic, and professional development. Through internships, students are able to gain skills that help smoothen their transition into the workforce and they gain more confidence as well as a sense of purpose. It’s important for students to be provided with opportunities that push them outside of their comfort zone within a university campus.  I am extremely thankful for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the University of Victoria, and CITYNET for giving me the chance to gain work experience in a field that I am passionate about. Thank you very much, it was an honour receiving the Asia Connect Award and I hope that in the future many more students can benefit from similar experiences.



Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 6: Planning for the Unimaginable

Disasters are unpredictable and can occur without warning. It is this unpredictability that complicates the act of planning for a large-scale emergency event. How can a region plan for scenarios it has no experience with and how can one possibly train emergency personnel for every single possible disaster situation? These are questions that cities are left facing in the 21st century and what has led to the creation of international frameworks for action such as the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) and more recently the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). Though the number of deaths caused by disasters continues to decrease every year, recent studies by UNISDR show that the number of people affected by disasters is increasing.

Building resiliency is a continual process and with the new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction there is a new international pressure for regions across the world to invest in disaster risk reduction software and hardware. This framework emphasizes the importance of establish strong networks prior to disasters so that research and information can be shared between individuals of all levels.

Since the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Japan has experienced a number of disaster events such as the 2004 Choetsu Earthquake, the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. These earthquakes provided the Japanese with regular reminders to the horrific damage that our earth’s regular movements can create without warning. Japan learned a lot from the experiences of the City of Kobe during the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and it sparked a number of institutional changes in Japan’s approach to disaster management. The earthquake also paved the way to the Hyogo Framework for Action.

The Hyogo Framework for Action was established by the United Nations in 2005, 10 years after the Kobe Earthquake. Inside were lessons learned from recent disasters, including the Kobe Earthquake and it was a call for nations to take actions towards creating resilient communities. The UN acknowledged that without making disaster risk reduction a priority, nations would be unable to meet other UN programs such as the Millennium Development Goals; society cannot develop sustainably without investing in DRR software and hardware. In the Hyogo Framework, the UN stressed that “DRR is a cost effective investment in preventing future losses” (Sendai, 2015) and it welcomed a “broader and more people-centered preventative approach to disaster risk” (2015).  Engaging different stakeholders in DRR work extends to vulnerable groups and the framework stresses the need for the active participant of individuals from disadvantaged groups.

The Hyogo Framework evolved into the current Sendai Framework in 2015 and it will stay active in its current form until 2030. The Sendai Framework was created through extensive assessments and reviews of the Hyogo Framework, with special attention made to the experiences of other nation and regions’ use of the previous framework’s advice in their DRR plans. Sendai promotes the creation of a comprehensive multi-hazard approach to DRR that incorporates multiple stakeholders at various levels. The answer to how a city does that has yet to be answered. UN Habitat has explored in some of its publications how resilience needs to be embedded into urban planning. City planning cannot be implemented without adaptations to local contexts. Choosing infrastructure locations and construction standards need to align with local risks (UN Habitat, 2013). But as was seen and experienced during the Tohoku disasters in 2011 is that hardware investments are not enough. Cities need to plan around communities and disaster education needs to be a focal point of development.

Moving forward communities inside and outside Japan need to routinely conduct disaster drills that address a wide range of different emergency scenarios. Whole communities need to be involved and vulnerable populations such as the elderly need to be targeted and included in trainings. Older buildings need to be reinforced and upgraded in order to survive large earthquakes and hazard maps need to be updated to provide communities with a proper understanding of the vulnerabilities that they are exposed to. Medical institutions need to stock medical supplies with at least a 2 weeks’ supply and a bigger emphasis on preventative medicine needs to be made at the community level. Medical professionals need to be assigned to evacuation and volunteer centers and individuals need to be provided with regular health checkups in order to prevent illness. In order to address gaps in service, better communication networks need to be installed and innovative resources like cloud-based medical files need to become the norm.

Disaster response planning unfortunately is accompanied by a lot of trial and error that has resulted in thousands of deaths in Japan alone in the last 20 years. With the increasing threat of climate change and the number of fast-growing cities across the world, the importance of preparing for disasters is at an all-time high. Unfortunately though disaster is a common occurrence in Japan, little is being done on the individual community level to prepare for disasters. In a survey conducted by the City of Yokohama in 2015, though approximately 90% of citizens believe that there is a strong possibility of a large earthquake occurring in Yokohama in the near future, only 50% of citizens participate in disaster drills, 40% have emergency stockpiles with more than 3 days’ worth of food and water, and citizen familiarity with the city’s readily available disaster risk reduction pamphlets and hazards maps remains around 30-40%. Communities need to look past borders to connect with other communities around the world. We can share information, on disaster prevention, response, and recovery. Disaster risk reduction is not a solitary activity, we are all one world and one big community.

The UN and other international bodies provide governments with DRR policies that outline best practices. There is however limited support or advice on how to apply policies and this is why looking at case studies from different emergencies is vital to developing proper emergency responses. During the Tohoku disasters there were many things that Japan did wonderfully but there were also a lot of missteps that cost thousands of people their lives. Large-scale disasters are bound to happen in the future and with a large growing ageing society, population increases, and fast-paced urbanization, their impacts will continue to increase. It is becoming more evident that countries and cities need to share their knowledge and experiences in order to promote international cooperation but also to ensure that our world is full of resilient communities. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 5: Practice Makes Perfect

For the past 6 months I have been working in the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office as a Project Assistant. Time has gone by incredibly fast and I have had a numerous tasks of different sizes. This week I had the opportunity to help the office put together an emergency procedures manual for future staff and interns. Our building was having their annual disaster drill and the office thought that I was a perfect time to update the office manuals.   

            The drill was not a small-scale affair and it involved everyone who worked in the International Organizations Center. The emergency scenario that we were given was of a 7.0 earthquake off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, just north of Tokyo- the earthquake was accompanied by a risk of Tsunami and a fire in the hotel attached to our office building. Being aware of the risk for Tsunami is extremely important because the CITYNET office is right on the harbour. Many of the emergency exits, including the ones closest to our office, exit right on the water. Therefor doing drills is important because employees need to know how to evacuate the building safely in a wide array of emergency scenarios.

            Participating in drills is extremely important and muscle memory really is a thing. If you are well-versed in ways to protect yourself from various emergencies then you are less likely to freeze and panic in a real emergency. For example, in the office building the emergency doors need to be turned a specific way in order to open them. If there was a huge earthquake you would be scared, and rightly so, the door might seem very intimidating and frustrating if you had not opened it before. But if you have previous experience in a non-stressful situation, once you get to the door you will be more relaxed and be able to focus on the next step of your evacuation instead of getting stuck on this one step.

            I am really glad that I did participate in this drill because I made a mistake during our evacuation from the office. Ever since I was little I have been taught that if you are evacuating because of a fire you need to close the doors behind you but keep them unlocked. This is to slow down the spread of the fire but also make it easier for firefighters to make their way around the building. The emergency scenario that we were re-enacting was an earthquake that triggered a fire so I thought that we needed to close our office door. In my defence, I grew up in Toronto and it highly unlikely that a large earthquake would affect us. We do lots and lots of fire drills but not fire and earthquake drills. I had been over confidence of my knowledge on emergency procedures and that bubble popped during this drill, whic exposed the constant need to practice through different scenarios. Because I was right, if there is a fire you close doors behind you but if there is a fire that is connected to an earthquake you have to keep the doors open.

            From the beginning of my internship in July through to the late fall we became accustomed to regular earthquakes. Most weeks there were at least three decent-sized earthquakes in the Yokohama and Tokyo region, enough to freak you out and keep you aware. Before this internship started last summer I had lived in Japan before, in Kobe for 9 months and then another 4 months in Yokohama, and I had never experienced this many earthquakes on a regular basis. I prepared my emergency kit at home, started carrying a small emergency bag with me everywhere including granola bars, a whistle, hand-sanitizer, a face mask, flashlight, swiss-army knife, and first-aid kit. To be honest I probably should have already had a first-aid kit on me because I am extremely clumsy and I am glad that living here has gotten me into the habit of always carrying one.

In the New Year the plates have settled down a bit but ignoring the fact that Tokyo is overdue for a large earthquake and Mount Fuji is likely to erupt in the next few decades is silly and quite dangerous. To everyone moving to or visiting Japan, I think that it is part of your responsibility as a foreigner to participate in drills and prepare emergency supplies. This is hard to do as a tourist but brushing up on earthquake procedures before you visit is a small but lifesaving activity that can be used in across the world. There is a 1/3 chance that Victoria will be hit by a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years so emergency preparedness is something that we should all be practicing on a regular basis. Even if you think you are prepared and know all there is to know you should still participate, you never fully know what you don’t know until you go.

So where am I going with all this? The past week I have been finishing up the touches on the office manual with the help of one of my colleagues. I am proud that I will be able to leave something useful and important for future interns and I hope that reading this blog will spark a desire in you to get yourself and your office prepared. Think about how long ago your last emergency drill was. What was the scenario? Do you know the vulnerabilities you are exposed to? Do you know where all the emergency supplies are in the office? Ignoring the inevitable doesn’t help anyone and puts ourselves and our loved ones at risk. Practice makes perfect and perfect keeps you safe.

For more information on how you can prepare for disaster please explore the following resources:


City of Yokohama:

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 4: Reuse, Reduce and Recycle

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Tsuzuki Incineration Plant and the Midori Recycling Center in Yokohama. This was my first time visiting a solid waste management center and I really learned a lot. 

Unlike in Canada, waste is locally collected 6 days a week. Different wastes have been assigned different days and in Yokohama waste must be separated into 10 categories: burnables, non-burnables, spray cans, plastic containers, PET, small metal items, batteries, paper, used cloth and oversized garbage. In communities there are designated waste collection areas, the garbage collectors will only collect your trash if it is in the designated area. If waste has not been segregated properly then it is left and marked with a warning sticker that provides an explanation of why the garbage has not been collected. If you receive multiple warnings you get a 2,000 yen fine.

What surprised me about the garbage trucks in Japan is that they sing songs, are often brightly coloured, and they are tiny. I actually got to drive one and empty it out! If I’m being completely honest I didn’t get far and didn’t leave the parking lot… the parking break remained on the entire time so I guess it was less drive and more sit in a garbage truck. Nonetheless it was one of the greatest things I have ever done.  The trucks we got to see during our visit had cute little anime characters that are used to help promote sustainable consumption to schoolchildren. During the summer holidays, the Tsuzuki ward also hosts visits from children so that they understand what happens to their garbage.

The next stop during my visit was the Midori Recycling Center. I loved this place almost too much. There is something incredibly satisfying about seeing thousands of cans and bottles getting squeezed together into perfect cubes of resources. At the recycling center, recycled goods that have been collected are sorted and then recycled or sold raw to private companies. When recycling arrives at the center it is sorted by machine. A large set of choppers cut open plastic bags of recycled goods and separate them into cans, plastics, and glass. After the machines there are people who assist in the sorting process, glass for example needs to be sorted according to its color. The workers stand along the conveyor belt and have each been assigned a specific material. When their material arrives they toss it into its designated hole. Machines can only get you so far and that’s why human workers are needed to ensure materials are properly sorted.

The Midori Recycling Center is Yokohama’s oldest recycling facility. Fun fact, the center is 23, which is the same age as me.  The employees are all very proud of the work that they do and they are happy to share their knowledge on sustainability with communities in Yokohama. The passion for recycling extends to the uniforms that the employees wear, and worker uniforms are made using recycled PET.

Throughout the visit my perception on waste completely changed and it was a very rewarding experience. I grew up in Toronto and we do not incinerate our garbage, instead we ship tons of garbage to landfills every single day. We have so much garbage that our landfills are filling up. It really is not a sustainable way to deal with trash. This is why I was so fascinated by seeing an incineration plant in action. Incineration plants in Yokohama run 24/7 and the energy created through the incineration process is enough to power the entire site and parts of the recreation center next to the plant. Garbage is store within a huge 130m tall chamber and is aerated and lifted into the incinerator by a massive crane. Moisture found within the garbage needs to be aerated in order to optimize the incineration process. Outside of the garbage chamber you cannot smell anything. Incineration plants were introduced in Yokohama during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over recent years new initiatives in the City of Yokohama have encouraged citizens to produce less waste, which has resulted in the closing of two incineration plants. The city hopes to continue reducing it’s waste and truly become a waste free city. Unfortunately though Yokohama is a waste conscious city, 10% of incinerated waste is untouched food that has not been opened or eaten and 15% of waste should have been recycled. Visiting the incineration plant was a good reminder to always take the time to sort through everything and not buy more food than I can eat.

Yokohama is one Japan’s leading cities in waste management and this site visit helped show why that is the case. We hear it often but I think it is worth repeating, everyone should do their part in order to reuse, reduce and recycle. Before buying something new and throwing something away, we need to think about whether it truly is garbage or if parts can be used, recycled or fixed. This week I actually went out and bought needle and thread and I fixed a hole in a sweater with a patch. The sweater still did sweater like things and there was absolutely no reason to throw it out. 

This entire site-visit brought out the child in me. The whole time I had a foolish grin on my face, I loved the whole thing. I love getting a behind the scenes look into something you take for granted. When we are finished with items and toss them in the trash it is only that objects beginning. We need to think about the whole journey and become more connected to the garbage that we create. I really wish more people could participate in site visits like this. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 3: DRR in Taipei

At the end of September I flew down to Taipei to assist with the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office’s annual Disaster Cluster Seminar. The seminar had a number of sessions on different disaster related topics from disaster medicine to community-based disaster risk reduction. There were also four site visits that allowed seminar participants to see first hand Taipei’s disaster risk reduction undertakings.

Taipei is vulnerable to a wide array of hazards. They frequently have earthquakes, they are regularly hit by typhoons, and because of the city’s geography they experience flooding from heavy rainfalls. September is the middle of typhoon season in Asia and the day that I flew out of Tokyo, the city was hit by a typhoon leading to a very bumpy take-off. When I arrived in Taipei the weather was beautiful. I was there for 6 days and it didn’t rain once. Fortunately I was only there for 6 days because the following day Taipei was hit by the largest typhoon in recorded history. The entire city closed down for two days, winds were over 250km/h and there was 3 feet of rain in some parts of Northern Taiwan. After spending the past 6 days learning about Taipei’s DRRM undertakings in the city it was fascinating to then see them in action from afar.

One of the site visits that we had was to the Taipei Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC goes into full swing when an emergency is declared. The center has large television screens with live-stream cameras that help provide the city with live updates on the situation across the city. Taipei is dissected by a number of rivers and is surrounded by tall mountains. Because of the city’s variability of low-lying and highland, neighbourhoods in the city can be affected very differently so monitoring is extremely important. The building that houses the EOC is also considered the safest building in Taipei and has lots of anti-earthquake reinforcements. In a large scale earthquake the foundation is able to absorb a lot of the shock. There is also a helipad on the top, which we got to visit. It was easily the best view of the Taipei 101 tower.

There were also two visits to flood mitigation sites in the city . The first was called the Yuanshanzih Flood Channel and is a large-scale project that was funded by the national government. The size of the channel completely blew me away. It was 8 by 8 metres and diverted river water from going towards New Taipei City and led it to the ocean. It was not the prettiest project because it was grey and oppressive but it was clear just how necessary its construction was. This area of Taipei used to experience frequent flooding that regularly resulted in casualties. Since it’s construction in the mid 2000s there has been no flooding or casualties. We also visited a retention basin called Dago Stream Ecological Park. This was hands down my favourite part of the trip. It is a beautiful park that is used to hold floodwater during heavy rain. It is in a neighbourhood called Naha that used to experience lots of heavy flooding that would also often caused casualties. Since this project was completed there has been no flooding in the area or flood related casualties. What I loved the most about this flood retention basin is how it is dual-purpose. The design of the park preserves the river valley’s natural geography and is gorgeous. We visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the park was filled with people of all ages enjoying the park and the weather as a community. It was unbelievable to think that this park that was being used by hundreds to enjoy their afternoon picnics would be underwater 2 days later. The Dago Stream Ecological Park brought community members together during normal times and protected that same community from disaster.

The Disaster Cluster Seminar date coincided with National Disaster Prevention Day in Taiwan and we were able to go and check out the city’s organized activities. It was held at the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei. Various NGOs, NPOs, and government agencies set up tents to spread awareness about their roles in disaster management and enhance public levels of preparedness. There were lots of children with their families and they could check out emergency vehicles, ride on an earthquake simulator and have a hands-on experience with life saving things that they could do at home to protect their families. The City of Taipei saw the event as the perfect time to release their first ever disaster prevention manual. There was a huge public ceremony that was attended by the mayor of Taipei and some of the city’s emergency personnel. The seminar participants were also provided with the honour of being a part of the unveiling ceremony. Public events like this are extremely important in raising awareness because passers-by, who may not have known about the event, can stop and check it out. The children who were participating in all the activities were laughing and enjoying themselves, there was even a dance competition where kids could perform a dance routine that illustrated the correct actions to take during an earthquake!

At the end of my six days in Taipei I was filled with lots of new knowledge and a love for the city. Taipei’s eagerness to share its best practices in disaster management and prevention was great to see. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to my ability to fly down and help out with the seminar. Being an intern at the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office is an incredible experience and I can’t thank the office or CAPI enough for providing me with this opportunity.  

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 3: Sewage Treatment in Yokohama

This week Sophia Mayen and I had the opportunity to visit the Hokubu Wastewater Treatment Center in the Tsurumi Ward of Yokohama. We got to see first hand how Yokohama purifies its wastewater and what makes the city a pioneer in sludge recycling.

Please take the time to check out Sophia’s blog where we have uploaded a podcast of our post-visit reflection.  

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 1: Conversation with Katt McGrath Part 2

 I had the opportunity to speak with Katt McGrath who will be an intern at CITYNET from August-December – this is the second half of our conversation. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 1: Conversation with Katt McGrath Part 2

I had the opportunity to speak with Katt McGrath who will be an intern at CITYNET from August-December – this is the second half of our conversation. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 2 : Preparing for Disasters

For the past week the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office has been facilitating a study-visit with 14 delegates from Iloilo in the Philippines. The visit is a part of the Community Based Adaptation and Resilience Against Disasters (CBARAD-II) project that has entered its second phase.  The CBARAD project is working to develop sustainable DRR practices in Iloilo by enhancing disaster preparedness at the local government level and in local communities. The study-visit’s purpose was to learn about Disaster Crisis Management in the City of Yokohama. Session topics ranged from Planning Disaster Risk Reduction Management with a presenter from the Crisis Management Bureau of Yokohama to Community Participation in Disaster Risk Reduction with an Associate Professor from Yokohama City University.

On the last two days of the study-visit, we went to Kobe to meet with Plus Arts, a local NGO that works in DRR education for children, and to visit the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution and the Kobe DRR Museum.

After a long week of DRR related sessions I began to reflect on my own level of disaster preparedness. I pride myself in my ability to stay organised and prepared for expected events but I realised this week how unprepared I am for the unexpected.

During my first week in Japan I bought some instant food supplies, a two-litre bottle of water, I made sure to check where my local evacuation site is, and I left it at that. The instant food supplies included two packs of instant ramen, some instant rice, and some instant corn soup. The rations would have lasted me less than two days and in order to become consumable all my food items required water, meaning that my two-litre bottle would have disappeared quickly in the event of a disaster.  

The day after I returned from Kobe I decided that it was time to create a better-stocked disaster kit. The Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution is an emotionally heavy experience. The disaster museum lets you relive and learn from victims’ experiences. It really made me rethink my own disaster plan.

In Japan you are required to register yourself at your Ward Office within 15 days of moving to a new house. When you register they provide you a package with information on the ward and this includes a disaster manual that explains how to prepare for disasters. After getting home from Kobe I decided to finally go through the manual.

The ward has translated the manual into English and it contains information on how to make your house earthquake proof, it provides emergency contact numbers, evacuation areas, a full map of the ward including its evacuation areas and centres, and a tsunami hazard map. 

On the last page it provides a list of items that are necessary to take with you in the event of a disaster.

The ward recommends that when you evacuate who should carry:

–       Water (canned/bottled)

–       Imperishable/simple foods

–       Paper plates, paper cups

–       Hardhat

–       ID cards

–       Toiletries

–       Masks, tissues

–       Standard Medicine

–       Mobile Radio

–       Flashlight

–       Mobile phone and Charger

–       Work Gloves

–       Vinyl bags

–       Writing utensils

–       Cash

Supplementary items include:

–       Clothing and blankets

–       Soap, hand sanitizer, dry-shampoo 

–       Medical kit

–       Lights, heat packs

–       Slippers

–       Tape

–       Whistle

–       Valuables 

I tried to follow the list and I now have 9 litres of bottled water, energy bars, canned fish and meat, more packs of instant rice, soup, electrolyte packs, a small toiletry kit, plastic cups, plastic wrap, a lighter, and face masks. My dorm has hard hats, radios, and flashlights so I did not feel the need to purchase them.

Plastic wrap is probably one of the most useful items to have in a disaster and I was surprised that it wasn’t on the list of recommended items from my ward. In addition to using it to preserve food, it can be used to wrap up plates and bowls so that you do not need to wash them, you can just discard the used plastic cover. It can also be used to wrap up wounds or to use with a splint in order to stabilize a fracture. 

So, now that I have prepared this stockpile just how prepared am I for unexpected disasters? Just this morning my floor was woken up to the fire alarm going off. At first I thought it was an earthquake warning, then I assumed it was a drill but still I rolled out of bed to open my door and see what was going on. Sure enough there was smoke, quite a bit of it, so I rushed back into my room grabbed my phone, passport, and wallet, put on some shoes and headed for the emergency exit. Upon getting downstairs I realised that I was in a tank top and had not taken a sweater. I also did not have my Japanese cellphone with me and instead took my SIM cardless phone from Canada that without a Wi-Fi connection I could only use as a flashlight and to play solitaire. Fortunately the whole fire issue was dealt with quickly and before long we were able to go back upstairs and I could get ready for work.

The whole thing really made me think about how lucky I actually was. What if it had been a big fire? I should have at least brought a jacket or sweater with me. Yes it was sunny out and the weather is still quite warm in Japan but who knows how long I could have been stuck outside. I knew that there was smoke and it had the potential to become something bigger so why was I not instinctually more prepared?

I guess the one thing that makes me feel a little better is that before heading down the emergency staircase I ran into my neighbour who wanted to take the elevator down… I quickly told him that was a bad idea and we took the stairs down together.

If anything I think that this evacuation experience can be seen as a sort of drill. The timing aligned perfectly with my experience stockpiling for a disaster and I have learned a lot from it. It’s through making mistakes that we are able to learn so next time I will at least remember to bring a sweater. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 1: Knowledge and Accessibility

Last week I woke up at 3am to tsunami sirens. It was not the first time that I had heard Japanese emergency alarms; I had heard earthquake warnings in that past and I attended the annual Yokohama Disaster Drill two weeks ago but even having had those experiences there was something that bothered me with the tsunami sirens. They are spoken in fast Japanese and I wasn’t even really sure that I understood the alarm right. Also there is a melody that plays when the alarm ends. I couldn’t even believe that that short jingle meant that it was the “end” that I actually got up out of bed to check if someone was at my door because it sounded more like a doorbell ringing than an alarm finishing. This may have been because of the fact that I was tired and it was 3am but I feel like there must be a more accessible way to release warning information in Japan considering the large number of foreign tourists who visit Japan every year as well as the many foreigners living in Japan who do not speak Japanese.  

Earthquakes, typhoons, tsunami warnings, volcanic eruptions, and flooding, it has been quite an eventful first few weeks in Japan. Living in disaster prone Japan gives you a reality check, a reminder of just how little control you actually have in this world. What you can control though is your level of preparedness for future disasters, ways to mitigate risk and build resilience.

Natural disasters are an everyday occurrence in Asia, by some reports there is on average 0.8 disasters a day in the region (IFRC and RCS). More than 75% of the world’s volcanoes and 90% of the world’s earthquakes are in Asia Pacific region (World Bank) and a week doesn’t go by without someone reminding you in passing that Japan is in the ring of fire. 

In addition to being the most disaster prone continent it is also the continent with the largest population at 4.1 billion (UN). Asian cities are also experiencing a large urban migration and it is estimated that there are at least 2 million new urban residents every month in East Asia alone (World Bank). This means expanding urbanised areas without disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiatives. For a number of reasons building sustainably is seen as an inaccessibly luxury, which is a fair assumption because building sustainably comes with a hefty cost, a cost that most countries do not think they can afford and they don’t even know where to start.

This continent alone is home to 60% of the world’s hungry with more than 933 million living on 1.25$ to 2$ a day (UN). There has been a lot of research done on the relationship between disasters, income, and human capital and how one disruption can leave individuals in a poverty trap; Asia is the perfect case study (World Bank). How does one target these vulnerable groups, show them how to prepare for future disasters? Where do you even start? 

The other day one of my friends asked me what has been the project that made me the most proud this past month. This was a hard question to answer and took me slightly off guard. I have had an amazing first month working for CITYNET in their Yokohama office. I learn something new everyday and my position here is opening my eyes to new dimensions of knowledge accessibility. 

What I realised was that that was the answer to the question. There is not a single project that has made proud but instead the fact that I could say that I was working with CITYNET. The Yokohama office is the lead city in the CITYNET Disaster Cluster and most of my work this past month has been related to the disaster cluster programs. CITYNET works to target vulnerable groups on the local level, one of their on-going programs being the Community Based Adaption and Resilience Against Disasters (CBARAD), which is in its second phase. The program works in the local communities in Iloilo, the Philippines, to help create DRR initiatives and increase community involvement and awareness in disaster prevention. This has included establishing disaster education programs for children and creating emergency facilities that are equipped for people with disabilities.

At the beginning of September our office hosted the 8th CITYNET Disaster Cluster Seminar. Participants were from nine cities in Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Philippines. It is an event for networking and sharing of best practices. What I liked most about the itinerary is that in addition to having “in-class” seminar type activities there were also study visits to sites around the Yokohama area. 

The DRR initiatives that were presented to participants were presented on a basic level and in a way that localising them was attainable. My favourite presentation was by an organisation called Plus Arts that is based out of Kobe. The organisation has a disaster education program for children and other at-risk groups. The program is simple and easily localised which has lead to its success in countries all around the world. The CITYNET Yokohama office has been working closely with them in Nepal and in the CBARAD project in the Philippines. One of my favourite things about the program is its philosophy that teaching disaster prevention education to children and creating awareness can be fun for both teachers and participants. The program is completed through games and activities. Their material is clean and simple, very visual and recognisable.

One of the study visits we took was to the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park. Here Plus Arts has worked to create a permanent exhibit to teach individuals how to survive for 72 hours after a disaster. There are arts and crafts like how to make plates and bowls out of newspaper and how to make emergency toilets, flashlights, and other essential items.

Plus Arts has also created a permanent exhibit in the mall across from my office building. By creating permanent exhibits in open public spaces the amount of new individuals they can reach out to has no limit; the knowledge it provides is accessible.

In terms of DRR initiatives, it is great that the UN has worked to create DRR frameworks such as the Hyogo Framework for Action and most recently the Sendai Framework for DRR but there are a lot of issues regarding the accessibility of their framework. It’s one thing to provide organisations, governments, and various other stakeholders with long lists of investment recommendations but without providing them with clear ways of how to find the resources needed to introduce those DRR initiatives, that knowledge remains inaccessible. Accessible knowledge is key when it comes to DRR and it saves lives. As the Asia population continues to grow its urban spaces grow with it, climate change is affecting disaster strength and frequency, increasing vulnerability to disasters. Sometimes the most effective way to create change is to start at the local level. Target vulnerable groups; provide them with life saving knowledge that has been localised to their context. Show them learning can be fun and link communities together. Knowledge is power so why isn’t the knowledge accessible. 

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