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Unnatural disasters


IFRC President Tadateru Konoé sees need for greater humanitarian response to technological emergencies

Whether it’s an oil spill destroying the livelihood of a coastal community, a radiation leak at a nuclear power station, or a chemical fire releasing toxic smoke, National Societies are often confronted with the fallout from man-made crises. Tadateru Konoé, president of both the IFRC and the Japanese Red Cross Society, is a long-time advocate for greater preparedness for these types of emergencies. The radiation release at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan this year added new urgency to his efforts. Red Cross Red Crescent magazine asked President Konoé what he felt the role of Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies should be in preparing for and responding to these unnatural disasters.

RCRC: In your view, what was learned from the Fukushima emergency and what does it tell us about how governments and humanitarian organizations need to prepare?
In any country, promoting nuclear power plants is a
delicate issue and the plants have been installed based
on the conviction that they are safe. Thus, countries that
possess them have traditionally been reluctant to deal
with the possibility of an accident or inform the public of
how to prepare for the worst. As long as nuclear power
plants exist, it is necessary that information about these
facilities is disclosed transparently.

Accidents are always possible, and formulating common safety measures and responses is an imperative.
As regards safety measures for, and responses to,
accidents at nuclear power plants, the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ) has taken the initiative to come up with a wide variety of systems.

However, in terms of how to have residents in a disaster-stricken area cope with an accident — including education, drills and health management, environmental monitoring, relief workers’ risk management — we can not simply rely on existing international cooperative systems and standards. We need to involve local people and organizations such as Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies to ensure the highest levels of preparedness.

After the Chernobyl disaster, the Movement
pledged to play a greater role in preparedness and
response to technological disasters. How would
you assess the level of readiness now?

The Red Cross Red Crescent’s role is to enhance disaster
prevention and preparedness capacities and to
provide relief to the affected population. In this sense,
there is no difference between the relief activity for
natural disasters and that for technological disasters.
In the case of the latter, however, nuclear disasters
among others, technical expertise and equipment as
well as long-term health management are necessary.

Individual National Societies need to identify the
types of possible technological disasters and then
consider their roles and develop measures accordingly.
As regards a nuclear disaster, we have a few Societies
such as those affceted by the Chernobly disaster that
have been active for some time. However, we hope
to be able to track the progress of domestic and international efforts and initiatives in this area, and to
get more National Societies to factor this into their
preparedness for response work. In terms of the level
of preparedness against technological disasters, we
have some work to do to identify specific hazards and
related needs for capacities on our side.

The issue of nuclear emergency and nuclear
weapons will be discussed during the Statutory
Meetings in November. What are your hopes for
the outcome?

With the number of countries that possess nuclear
power plants on the rise, I see value in having a resolution adopted to step up preparedness for the possibility of an accident.. It is desirable for all National Societies of countries with nuclear power plants to share information about their preparedness measures and about their planned role in case of a nuclear accident, in order to allow for international comparison.

The most advanced national preparedness and response
systems need to be identified and used as a reference for improving preparedness gradually and to realize common guidelines. As the initial step, we would like to start by agreeing on this roadmap. In terms of more specific National Society activities, the possibilities include public awareness enhancement, relief activities in disaster-stricken areas, support for evacuees, long-term public health management and environmental assessment.

Regarding efforts and initiatives to ban the use of
nuclear weapons or abolish them, the Movement is
proud of its long history and I believe it would be
significant to make a strong new gesture with an eye
toward recent changes in the international environment
surrounding nuclear weapons.

International Disaster Response Law (IDRL) is
another area in which the IFRC could advise
governments and international bodies. What has
been learned from Fukushima in terms of IDRL?

There are various types of technological disasters.
Therefore, authorities and international organizations
should take measures compatible with the respective
characteristics of the disasters. As a nuclear disaster has
an impact on a broad range of fields and across a wide
area, it is essential to gather experts in each realm from
both home and abroad to collect, analyze and share
information in order to deliver a unified message internationally. In the case of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as it was dangerous to access the accident site, no accurate information could be obtained and messages
delivered by authorities or experts were not unified. As
a result, it gave rise to rampant speculation as well as
harmful rumours. I assume that an easy-to-understand
chain-of-command structure, a ‘check-and-balance’
supervision system, and government development of
relief plans based on the worst-case scenario, may be
incorporated into effective disaster laws. Ongoing IDRL
efforts could be helpful in this respect.

During a meeting earlier this year with Yukiya
Amano, director general of the IAEA, you discussed
the possibility of a closer working relationship. Can
you comment on what IFRC and National Societies
can contribute in such a scenario?

The IAEA plays a pivotal role in ensuring the safety
of nuclear power plants and taking various measures
in the event of an accident. As regards the short- and
long-term effects of an accident on people’s health
and the environment, as well as measures to address
them, there are areas in which the IF RC can work in
collaboration with the IAEA and the World Health
Organization. The activities carried out by National
Societies and the IF RC following the Chernobyl disaster
will serve as an invaluable reference.

What other roles might National Societies play?
As humanitarian organizations, National Societies can
carry out activities for those affected. In terms of education and training for local residents, National Societies can mobilize grass-roots volunteers and youth networks. Moreover, through humanitarian diplomacy,
they can exert an influence on decision makers at various
levels. We have a number of member Societies that
have medical resources and capacities that could be put
to good use in relation to nuclear issues.

Japan is the only country that has suffered
both from nuclear weapons and a peacetime
nuclear-power emergency. As the president of the
Japanese Red Cross Society, can you speak about
how your National Society sees these two issues?

The Movement has been involved in nuclear weapons
issues for many years; it has stated, time and again,
that its aim was their ultimate abolition. In contrast,
the Movement itself has not tackled the question of
whether to continue or abolish nuclear power plants
and I believe that, for the moment, it should not do
so. In this sense, it is self-explanatory that different approaches should be taken between nuclear weapons
and nuclear power plants. As the National Society of
the only nation that went through relief activities for
both types of emergencies, I recognize that the Japanese
Red Cross Society has a moral obligation to raise
this issue from the perspective of humanitarian consequences and helping those affected.

IFRC President Tadateru Konoé
Photo: ©IFRC













Smoke rises from the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture in north eastern Japan, March 2011. Photo: ©REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co., courtesy












A quarter century after the meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station, people over a wide region still suffer serious health consequences. As part of their response, National Societies in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, along with the IFRC, began a program of regularly screenings for thyroid cancer and other ailments in rural areas. Tatiana Sueta, a doctor for the IFRC, checks a young girl’s thyroid gland in a small village in eastern Belarus, April 2011. Photo: ©REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko, courtesy






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