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The Recovery Begins

Author: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
March 27, 2011
Beijing Review

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Japan faces a tremendous challenge as it seeks to recover from the effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The most immediate challenge, of course, is the containment of radiation leaks from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. But ripples from the disaster will continue for some time, and Japan's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the nation's history will be costly and long.

The death toll is already far beyond the 1995 Kobe earthquake. The count continues as search and rescue teams scour the stricken northeastern coast for survivors. On March 20, an 80-year-old woman and her teenage grandson were found alive in the rubble of their home. But the current toll is expected to grow higher.

Japan is beginning to revive. Slowly, much-needed supplies are beginning to reach devastated areas as roads are reopened. Tokyo residents are adjusting to delayed trains, rolling blackouts, and national appeals to consumers not to stockpile food and water. Industry leaders are cooperating to manage shortages of goods and disruptions of the supply chain. Financial leaders around the globe met to facilitate Japan's intervention in the global currency markets.

Already, experts are debating the cost of rebuilding. The World Bank on March 21 estimated the amount at $230 billion, while the Japan Center for Economic Research produced a much lower estimate of 2 trillion yen ($24.6 billion). Despite the differences, experts agree this is likely to be the world's most expensive natural disaster.

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