Natural disasters pose a very serious threat to the international postal network

11.03.2019 - Interview with Tetsuo Hasegawa, UPU Disaster Risk Management and Emergency Aid Associate Expert

Q1: Could you please tell us about your career path and your current role at the Universal Postal Union?

Although I did not intend this, my career has been mainly in the postal sector. I started working in 1999 for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications of Japan (now the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). At that time, the Ministry was both a postal regulator and operator. Later the operational function was transferred to Japan Post and the Ministry became a regulator. I chose to keep working for the Ministry. After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, I worked for 3 years for the Embassy of Japan in Thailand. On my first workday at the embassy, a historically big flood happened in Thailand and I was assisting Japanese people and companies in this country. Before, I did not have any experience in disaster risk management (DRM). Now, 5 years after the earthquake, I am an Associate Expert in DRM and Emergency Aid (EA) at the UPU. My primary task is to support UPU member countries in developing disaster resilient postal services.

 

Q2: What do you remember about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami?

Earthquakes are very common in Japan and for most Japanese people they have become something like a daily routine. However, the one that happened in 2011 was a shocking event. I have never experienced such a big earthquake, it was not usual. The earthquake had three different epicenters, which combined one big quake from the North to the South of Japan. Some people even felt seasick because of how long it lasted. It happened around 2:30 pm. At that moment, I was at work, in the Ministry building in Tokyo. The building is quite new so I did not worry it would fall down. However, it was like a tiny ship in troubled waters. After the quake, it took me 5 hours to walk home because public transport was not working at all. Fortunately, most of my family and friends live in Tokyo, where I was born and raised, so they were not hurt because the city is located more than 500 km from the earthquake. Our houses were not damaged. However, I will never forget this day for the rest of my life.

 

Q3: Were you involved in overcoming the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami?

After the accident, my boss told me to go to the affected areas of the country, to gather information and to report back. I stayed there for two days and it looked like after a heavy bombardment had occurred, nothing was left at all. Our Ministry was a command center of the Japanese government. Our first priority was to rescue people. It is important to do that within the first 72 hours because later it becomes almost impossible. Another priority was to maintain communication with the affected areas with the help of mobile phones. However, it was very hard because many telecommunication towers were out of battery and those located on the coasts were wiped out by the tsunami. The situation was so confusing that we could not do much during the first week. Japan Post has a standardized procedure for disasters, for example, simplified money withdrawals. However, the tsunami was so severe, that postal employees were victims themselves and many postal facilities were destroyed. Therefore, it was quite difficult to provide normal emergency assistance. Still, we were trying to rescue the 3Ps: people (postal employees), property (postal facilities) and products (postal service).

 

Q4: How did the UPU help Japan?

After the first 48 hours following the earthquake, the UPU made an emergency assistance offer to Japan. Such an offer normally includes equipment like generators, computers, scanners, digital scales, etc. Japan thanked the UPU but did not accept the offer because they could rely on their own resources. The Japanese government allocated an emergency budget to restore the telecommunication towers and it did not need to support Japan Post because the operator had enough financial resources to maintain itself. Sometimes assistance from foreign administrations can be problematic and a language barrier is one of the reasons. For example, the majority of Japanese people do not speak English fluently, so it was hard for them to accept international support. It is not just Japan. Whenever a natural disaster happens, the UPU is always quick to react and is ready to provide its assistance to the affected countries. Most of them do not reply because they do not need it. However, countries with very limited resources like Caribbean or SIDS, which experience big hurricanes and floods almost every year because of their geographic locations, require our help. We are now preparing our EA package for some of them.

 

Q5: How does the UPU support the countries affected by natural disasters?

The UPU assists the affected countries with the help of its tools, one of which is the EA programme.  Launched in 2010, it helps such countries recover by providing them with necessary equipment and by supporting the reconstruction of their postal facilities. Another UPU’s programme is DRM, which includes disaster preparedness actions like planning, capacity building, and staff training. One of the decisions made by the 26th Universal Postal Congress held in Istanbul in 2016 was to focus more on such cost-effective precautions. Since the Congress, I have been working on developing DRM tools and last year the UPU launched a new Technical Assistance Programme, which is based on a Disaster Resilience Fund. The Fund supports UPU member developing countries in disaster preparedness and has already selected Granada, Nepal, Zambia, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Ecuador, Kenya, Bhutan, and Togo. Japan founded the Fund because after the 2011 earthquake, it decided to invest more in DRM and the postal sector is not an exception. The Fund is open for any country’s investment. The UPU has also an Emergency Solidarity Fund, which has supported 14 countries since its creation in 2010.

 

Q6: How is the UPU going to enhance its role in the DRM and EA fields?

Our first priority is to enhance the Technical Assistance Programme by increasing its budget. Currently, the programme allocates 50,000 CHF per single project, which in many cases is not enough. We would like to improve our assistance menu by conducting research on different needs UPU member countries have when facing natural disasters. For example, it is very important to invest in ICTs like sensor technologies that detect the early signals of disasters. We also need to strengthen our DRM cooperation with the UN organizations. The UPU already works with the World Meteorology Organization and would like to enhance its collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union.

 

Q7: Would you like to add anything on this subject?

Natural disasters pose a very serious threat to the international postal network, the biggest physical network on our planet. One-third of disruptions to postal services are caused by natural disasters. Usually, Posts are too busy with their daily operations and do not take natural disasters seriously. However, when a disaster comes, its aftermath can be terrible. I believe DRM investments are cost-effective and necessary and I hope postal operators, especially those from least-developed countries, will understand the importance of disaster preparedness.

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  1. Dirk at 19.01.2016
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