Plans by the Japanese government to build a huge series of seawalls to protect tsunami affected areas have been attacked by local critics as a costly waste of time.
Just months following the devastating tsunami of March 2011, the Japanese government announced it would build a vast array of sea walls to protect vulnerable coastal regions in future.
Under the plan, a total of 440 walls standing nearly 15 metres in height would be constructed across Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate – the prefectures which suffered most damage as a result of the disaster.
Three years following the unveiling of the sea wall plan, local opposition is mounting against it due to concerns over its exorbitant cost and limited effectiveness.
The project is slated to cost as much as US$9.8 billion, with detractors referring to it pejoratively as the “Great Wall of Japan” and claiming that there is only limited evidence at hand for the efficacy for such extensive measures.
The 3,000-strong population of the village of Fudai managed to survive the 2011 tsunami chiefly as a result of a seawall which was built in the 1980s and which was decried at the time as a waste of money.
Fudai remains a noteworthy exception, however, with almost 90 per cent of seawalls situated on the northeastern coast failing to withstand the tsunami.
The $1.6 billion breakwater built for the city of Kamaishi is an example. The immense seawall was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest structure of its kind in the world, yet it proved useless against the raging tsunami waters of several years ago and disintegrated upon impact despite its size.
Critics, including the Prime Minister’s wife Akie Abe, claim the walls have a disruptive impact upon local ecosystems and can make tsunamis even more dangerous by producing large amounts of debris when destroyed, or by allowing residents situated behind them to become complacent in the face of disaster.
The plan launched by the government has other issues as well, with the land ministry conceding that the walls are too small to withstand a seismic event on the scale which occurred in 2011, as they stand less than half the size of the highest wave which beset afflicted areas three years ago.
Detractors further point out that the walls will in many cases serve no purpose, as many of the villages which they are designed protect have already been shifted several kilometres further inland as an early precautionary measure.