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'Do not remain here': Tokyo ward raises flooding awareness through hazard map

The front page of the English version of the "Edogawa City Hazard Map," issued by Edogawa Ward in May 2019 is seen.

TOKYO -- Getting the public to recognize hazard maps to protect people's lives from disasters is a challenge in Japan, so the capital's Edogawa Ward is trying to tackle the issue by placing signs in certain areas saying, "Do not remain here."

The new measure was carried on the front page of the "Edogawa City Hazard Map," released by the ward in May, which also shows arrows pointing outward from Edogawa Ward "to other areas that are safe from flooding" including locations in Chiba and Saitama prefectures as well as western Tokyo.

Edogawa Ward is surrounded by the Edogawa River to the east, the Arakawa River to the west and Tokyo Bay to the south. Around 70% of the area is below sea level at high tide. Critics, however, have argued that the new anti-disaster measures are an abdication of responsibility as an administrative body to encourage locals to evacuate from the ward in the absence of a designated evacuation area.

The front page of the Japanese version of the "Edogawa City Hazard Map," issued by Edogawa Ward in May 2019 is seen.

"We chose this phrase so people could properly understand information and think about a wide evacuation area," said Edogawa Ward's Disaster Prevention and Risk Management Section head Yoshinari Honda. The use of such a straightforward expression to warn people of the risk of flooding drew a great public response.

Though Typhoon Hagibis did not have a major impact on Edogawa Ward, officials received multiple phone calls from locals asking questions such as, "Is the typhoon going to be dangerous?" and, "Where should I evacuate to?" Honda feels "more people are becoming aware of the risk of flooding."

Areas in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, hit with flood damage caused by the July 2018 torrential rain that fell in western Japan almost entirely overlapped with locations indicated on a hazard map.

Toshitaka Katada, project professor of disaster social engineering at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School, stated, "A hazard map, no matter how easy it is to understand, is useless if no one refers to it."

Katada, who is urging a change in government-dependent disaster prevention, emphasized, "Hazard maps have become highly accurate and effective nowadays. Though government bodies need to put in more effort than just publicizing the maps, more than anything, local residents need to be aware that they could become victims of disasters and take independent action (for disaster prevention)."

Jun Kawaguchi, associate professor of architecture and regional disaster prevention at Mie University's Graduate School, urged the public "to be aware of the worst-case scenario" and "evacuate from areas with a risk of flooding" even if it's not certain that there will be a flood.

(Japanese original by Shohei Oshima, City News Department)

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