Sunday, 13 March 2011

Japan's double whammy

I am humbled. Like most other people from around the world, I have been sitting in front of the television set in the home, unable to tear myself away from the images of the complete devastation in Japan. If the initial earthquake of magnitude 9.0 was terrible enough, the subsequent tsunami was even worse.

The pictures from the tsunami that destroyed Bandar Acheh in 2004 were all still images of the event's aftermath but after this weekend, nobody will ever forget the scenes from all the video footages of the Japan tsunami.

I first got to learn of the earthquake about half an hour after it happened. "Earthquake in Tokyo," a friend had texted me, and "Miyagi town to be hit by a tsunami of 20 feet high."

And sure enough, there it was on television with the first scenes unfolding of seawater rushing into a town centre, sweeping along ships, trucks and motor vehicles, waves crashing and bringing down buildings and then overflowing into the farmlands. Wow, a most impressive sight at first but very soon later, the enormity of the destruction sank in. The debris left behind when the waters receded. And countless persons unaccounted for. How many lives perished, unable to escape the rushing waters? 

I doubt Japan is really well-prepared to handle this disaster. No nation can ever hope to be absolutely well-prepared to handle natural disasters. And the rebuilding process: how long will it take the people to pick up the pieces after seeing their entire possessions destroyed within minutes? Ten years? Twenty years? For some, this is already their lifetime. And the psychological trauma that the tsunami is guaranteed to leave on the country.

All this, despite Japan being the third largest economy in the world. All the economic success in the world and yet, everything pales in the wake of nature's force. And how will it impact us? Though we are far removed from the tragedies there, somehow we are still connected and we will be affected.

The stock market, for instance. There was hardly time for the market to digest the true gravity of the situation last Friday but when the market reopens tomorrow after the weekend, I think the nervousness is going to show. The reaction may be bad.

The other concern is, of course, the industries which are linked to Japan: those whose production depends on component parts from Japan or final manufactured goods sent to Japan. Any disruption to the supply chain is likely to ripple through the whole manufacturing industry. The impact can be very serious. It's a wait-and-see right now, but I just hope that the 2008 economic downturn won't be repeated.

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