Saturday, April 24, 2010

Niigata's "Disaster Food"! A pack that will save your life!

Kobe earthquake, 05:46 am, January 17, 1995, magnitude 7.3, 6500 souls lost

In Japan where a natural disaster is prone to happen, whether or not we will learn from the past, from mistakes and those of others, in case of disaster, the best is to plan for a better future. How? With imagination and sense. But it helps to have comprehensive and immediate response with emergencies teams quickly dispatched on site, enforced with the involvement of special units (hospitals, Self Defense Forces, police, firemen, humanitarian organizations, Red Cross, NGOs')

Most needed: Immediate transport units (helicopters) which are required for rescuing victims our of their mountains and isolated farming villages. In case of nuclear power plants or chemical factories, it is necessary to send immediate Hi-Tech specialized rescue teams, perceptive to threats and helped by professional communicators.

Japan rescue team (Courtesy of Japan Ministry of Defense)

In 2007 in Niigata a fire broke out in an electrical transformer at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. The fire was extinguished within two hours. But the earthquake also caused a leak of radioactive gases and the plant tried to conceal it to the local press.

In other words, emergency crisis answers are to be developed and personnel trained and updated. After earthquake for instance, survival has 3 requirements: Water, Food, Roof. I'll focus on food rescue after this most insightful report in Niigata region, on the sea of Japan, thanks to the help and organization of the Foreign Press Center, Japan (FPCJ), the Niigata prefecture and the Niigata city-hall's administration.

Disaster food?

It means food products must be developed specifically for disasters and calamities. Here in Japan scholars and administration have joined hands to develop a new "disaster food" kit. This will be the topic during October 16 and 17 Niigata APEC Ministerial Meeting on Food Security. Many people in Niigata are involved in agriculture in various forms, and they are working hard to produce and deliver safe and tasty food. Having experienced two major earthquakes in 2004 and 2007, Niigata is leading Japan in the field of research and food supply at times of natural disaster.

Researchers of Niigata university elaborating high pressured eggs

The significance of Niigata as a major food production base is growing. In 2008 Niigata City and Yokohama City concluded an agreement on cooperation in critical phases, and they are prepared to help each other when a natural disaster occurs in one of the cities. If a great disaster occurs in the Kanto area, Niigata will help them by supplying food to Greater Tokyo.

In Japan compared to other countries as seen after the US Katrina disaster, people do not loot going for whatever they need to survive and protect one’s security when surrounded by desperate people resorting to desperate actions to feed themselves and their families.

In Japan people stay put and wait for government instructions, if it ever comes! In Kobe 1995 earthquake (Hanshin seism) no-one at the highest governmental level gave any instruction to coordinate and organize aid to victims under Socialist Prime Minister Murayama who felt powerless restrained by a cautious and irresponsible reading of the Constitution and especially because there was no law and still there IS NO LAW in Japan on Crisis Management.

A couples of hours after the earthquake that jolted the whole region, as I witnessed in Kobe, being the first French journalist reporting live for the French Radio and Television, such a magnitude of disaster caused thousands of deaths, more after in the next 48 hours, because of no help, and added death among abandoned food-less populations in the 5 days following the seism.

The Japanese government had refused to authorize in the early minutes following the earthquake to dispatch the only units which had the logistics to assist people in need, the Self Defense Forces based nearby in Himeji. A crucial and lethal error as sated by Crisis Management specialists such as Tokyo Governor Adviser Shikata Toshiyuki, an opinion shared by numerous scholars and disasters reliefs operators in and out of Japan. A reason why foreign nations such as France, US, sent immediately specialized units to try to save lives in the Hyogo prefecture.

Lessons were partially learned in the Niigata earthquakes...

A region with a past record of suffered repeated seisms:

The Niigata Chūetsu Earthquakes (中越地震) occurred at 5:56 p.m on Saturday, October 23, 2004. On the Richter scale, the moment magnitude of the earthquake is estimated at 6.9. (For comparison, the Great Hanshin earthquake, which devastated much of Kobe, measured a magnitude of 7.3)

2007 July 16, again a strong earthquake with estimated magnitude of 6.8 hit Niigata prefecture and its vicinity at 10:13 a.m. 14 deaths. The earthquake measured higher 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale in Chuetsu region of Niigata and northern Nagano prefecture, including Kashiwazaki-city and Nagaoka-city, Niigata. 300 houses were collapsed and about 10,000 people have been evacuated to shelters in Niigata prefecture at this point. his shallow crustal earthquake was followed 13 hours later by a deep focus magnitude 6.8 quake roughly 330 km to the west, 350 km below the Sea of Japan. (Foreign Press center Facts and Figures data)

The two earthquakes were generated by different mechanisms. The first earthquake was caused by deformation within the crust of the Okhotsk plate and the second quake was likely caused by faulting resulting from internal deformation of the subducted Pacific plate. Given their different mechanisms and physical separation of at least 10 rupture lengths, the second earthquake is not considered an aftershock of the first. Shallow earthquakes cause more damage than intermediate- and deep-focus ones since the energy generated by the shallow events is released closer to the surface and therefore produces stronger shaking than is produced by quakes that are deeper within the Earth. Two days after the initial earthquake, an aftershock occurred, registering 4 shindo in Izumozaki, Niigata.

Quotes of Foreign Press center "Having bitter experience of not being able to deliver food in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (1995), the food industry vocally supported Niigata, where more than 1,000 food-related companies are gathered, to tackle the challenge to deliver "disaster food" for the sake of the victims, and this move is picking up momentum now. It is the Niigata University Local Collaboration Food Science Center which plays the central part in this movement. In industry-academia-government collaboration, it tries to reform, enhance and enlighten the "knowledge" related to food, hoping to "contribute to the development of the food industry in Niigata prefecture." It consists of researchers from various faculties at Niigata University.

Having also experienced earthquake disasters twice, it has looked at earthquake disaster reconstruction from the perspective of food. Collaborating with local companies, it conducts wide-ranging research and development including the kinds of emergency food truly needed in disaster-hit areas, food processing using ultra-high-pressure treatment equipment, and research into the quality and taste of food. In cooperation with this center, Foricafoods Corporation, which is located in Uonuma city, Niigata, has succeeded in commercializing "Rescue Foods" that are warm and tasty just like normal meals even in disaster areas without lifelines. In this tour, you will receive a lecture on disaster food by Visiting Professor Shigeru Beppu at Niigata University (who is also Director of Foricafoods Corporation), and cook and taste "disaster food". You will also look at an experiment in food processing using ultra-high-pressure treatment equipment." End of quotes.

Foricafoods Corporation produced "Disaster Foods" products that self heat using special chemical shown to the press at Niigata University, Uonuma city, Niigata prefecture. The university and local food companies produce tasty, healthy and easy to use meals for emergency relief.

"Disaster Foods" is self-heated food using chemicals

Here is the presentation of the sample of disaster food, a survival kit made for victims with numerous added values: it can be served hot after a 20 minutes of a chemical reaction and there are several menus answering to the nutritious requirement in case of emergency situation.

"Rescue Food" demonstration by Professor Shigeru Beppu of Niigata university

Highlighted too is the necessity of developing a "disaster medical kit" for immediate support of the person placed in extraordinary circumstances, medicines, vitamins, first aid support, vitamins, vaccinations. A concept the administration should develop to help the population to store such vital items at home and in the car.

Food Security

At Niigata Toki Tower Convention where the APEC meeting will be held in October, I met Governor Izumida and Mayor Shinoda who highlighted their expectations of a successful session on APEC Food Security based on their experienced in this region strategically placed at a crossroad in the Eastern Asia.

Niigata Mayor Shinoda and Governor Izumida

Having prospered as a seaport town, Niigata is a highly urban functional city with a rich natural environment. Facing the Sea of Japan, the city is blessed with water resources including the Shinano River, the Agano River, and the Fukushima-gata tideland, and rice paddies, making the city known for its large production of food such as rice, vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products. With a population of 810,000, Niigata is also a largest hub city on the Japan Sea coast of Honshu mainland, and is expected to further develop as a gateway to East Asia. This is where I encountered the work of an extraordinary farmer who became a "food industrialist".

When research, green, water and farming become a top industry

Niigata being designated as a production center for mitsuba (trefoil), a chervil-like herb, by the government, Green's Plant Maki produces and sells, besides mitsuba, about 20 types of fresh herbs for cooking, and 11 types of baby leaves. It owns three farming plants including the 10,000㎡-size greenhouse that is the largest in scale in the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions. It annually ships out 230,000 cases of mitsuba and 240,000 packs of fresh herbs to markets in and out of Niigata prefecture. Fresh herbs are sold on the basis of orders from each market, and they are popular enough for restaurant chefs to order directly sometimes. 

President Kaoru Wakabayashi,65 lives with the motto of "making people healthy by giving safe and secure vegetables". He succeeded in producing safe and secure vegetables with high nutritional value by introducing new farming technologies.

For example, activate all the water need for the plants with a technology called "FFC technology" before use. This technology solved problems specific to tank farming such as bacteria that grow in water, and the perishable nature of vegetables. Through this, returns of vegetables from supermarkets sales declined, and their vegetables are reputed to have a long life on supermarket shelves.

As President Wakabayashi said "the most important component in vegetables is water, so we must use really good water for farming. Water that is good for vegetables is also good for the people who eat them." While cheap, foreign-produced vegetables sell well, this company competes on quality and taste. And I can say, he has the talent to prove that after 65 years old, far from thinking of retiring, Wakabayashi-san is at the top!


Fresh and crispy veggie

Having fresh products and offer them to the community in cities, it is the concept that existed for hundred of years in France. Here is a report from the Mainichi shimbun on the newest concept here: "Le Marché Japon"

"... The markets offer products developed and grown by farmers using organic methods. Hirokuni Hanami, a 31-year-old member of the Sambu Vegetable Network, a farm cooperative in Sambu, Chiba Prefecture, said one of the nice things about the market is that "We can tell customers how carefully we have plowed the field to cultivate vegetables." "Normally, we don't have a place for face-to-face selling," he said in Yokohama while treating customers to carrots, celery and ginger marinated in soy sauce. Moreover, by talking to customers, Hanami said he can get an idea of what they want and factor this into his production process..."

There's nothing like a fresh green salad, right?

✍✍✍ How Disaster Food will save you:

"Emergency food is so important that everyone should have some stored. In today’s world it isn’t a question of if you will need to draw upon your emergency food resources, but when. How many 7-plus magnitude earthquakes have you read/hear about lately? It seems like they don’t make earthquakes the way they used to. They are of greater and greater magnitude with more and more destruction and loss of life. And don’t for one second believe that those survivors involved in these catastrophes who were unprepared didn’t wish that they had access to emergency food supplies. When I say emergency food, I am also including water with that because the elixir of life is even more important than solid food for sustaining life. But, having emergency food isn’t weird, it isn’t excessive worry, and it isn’t hoarding. And none of thatwould matter anyway if you were in an emergency situation going hungry."

A report realized thanks to the help and organization of the FPC, Foreign Press Center, Japan , the Niigata prefecture and city-hall administrations. They are all to be thanked for their warm welcome and insightful discoveries about Japan's window of technology and quality of life.


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