TOKYO: Japan must play a leading role as an Asian power in helping aid and rehabilitate nations devastated by the recent earthquake-triggered Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.
The number of fatalities of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in waters off Sumatra continues to rise, while victims also include more than five million people who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other international leaders met in Jakarta to discuss post-disaster relief measures.
They agreed to set up a UN-led framework for international assistance to stricken countries and adopt an early warning system for tsunami that will cover the Indian Ocean.
Koizumis pledge to extend (Japans) utmost aid in the form of funds, manpower contribution and expertise seems to have reflected his desire to ensure his country does all it can to achieve the goal in a manner commensurate with its position as a major power in Asia.
The summit, hosted by Asean, was attended by 26 nations and international organisations. In an urgent appeal, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said international organisations would need US$977mil to help the victims of the tsunami over the next six months.
Donor nations have already promised to extend more than US$3bil in assistance. Japan intends to provide a total of US$500mil in grants-in-aid for the stricken countries and international institutions to cover their immediate needs.
To swiftly and efficiently distribute the international aid, it is essential for the United Nations and nations concerned to closely coordinate all the work involved.
According to experts, it will take five to 10 years to reconstruct destroyed houses and other buildings, as well as economic and industrial infrastructure in the devastated nations.
The United Nations and the international community will have to use all the powers at their disposal in taking on this daunting challenge. Given this, Japan had every reason to tell other international donors that it would extend additional financial aid, hoping to help finance long-term reconstruction work in the stricken areas.
It is very worrying to note that secondary damage from the latest disaster could occur in the form of serious food shortages and the spread of infectious diseases.
In fact, the World Health Organization has warned that the spread of epidemics could place an estimated 150,000 lives at risk.
Japan is set to send about 800 Self-Defence Forces personnel to Indonesia and other stricken nations.
The mission will be the largest of its kind. The SDF members will engage in medical activities and disinfection as a means of preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
In many stricken areas where hot weather is combined with torrential rain, drinking water has been contaminated, and decomposing bodies lie unrecovered.
We hope that the SDF personnel will do their utmost to halt the spread of secondary damage in these areas.
For as long as it has existed, Japan has been struck by a large number of earthquakes and tsunami. This has raised the level of this countrys seismological and anti-disaster research to one of the highest global standards.
Japan will be able to play an active role in establishing an early warning system for tsunami that covers the stricken areas by taking advantage of its experiences and expertise.
For years, Japan has enjoyed close relations with the Asean members in the political and economic spheres.
This countrys efforts to make its presence more strongly felt through its aid for the rehabilitation and reconstruction work is significant in that there is a gathering momentum for a plan to build an East Asian Community.
The stricken areas lie in the so-called arc of instability stretching from West Africa to South-East Asia. Armed conflicts and terrorist attacks have wreaked havoc on some parts of the region.
Any delay in the reconstruction of the tsunami-hit areas could serve to destabilise the region. Japans aid for the region will contribute to its own security and global stability.
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