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Melbourne academic Dr Marieluise Jonas helps Japanese villagers protect against tsunamis

By Alison Caldwell, Wednesday October 2, 2013 - 07:42 EST

A Melbourne academic is working with villagers in Japan to help them come up a way of protecting their community from devastating tsunamis.

Dr Marieluise Jonas, director of landscape architecture at RMIT in Melbourne, has made several visits to the village of Shibitachi where 16 people died in a tsunami in 2011.

All low-lying buildings, the port and the main road were destroyed and the earthquake caused the land mass to sink by 75 centimetres.

Dr Jonas wants to help the villagers come up with an alternative to government plans to build a wall - measuring 10 metres high, 30 metres wide and 200 metres long - along the harbour.

She says two thirds of the people living there are either undecided about the sea wall or do not want it.

"In Miyagi prefecture, the prefecture government now suggests to strengthen and support the communities by building seawalls they have proposed along most of the coastline," she told The World Today.

"But in the 2011 tsunamis in Kamaishi, the world's largest breakwater - a 17-metre-high concrete wall - was basically pulverised by the tsunami.

"And there is a big problem with a false sense of security that this type of infrastructure provides."

"We're hoping to visualise and to make more clear that potentially a large infrastructure like the seawall wouldn't help to actually address the problems of a declining economy or an aging society.

"We have a real opportunity actually thinking about how do we reconstruct resilient villages in the light of natural disaster, with understanding cultural uses which are available in places like Shibitachi."

Dr Jonas is due to return to Shibitachi for a community workshop bringing together Japanese and international experts, including designers who worked in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

The project, Rebuilding Shibitachi, is being funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation.


© ABC 2013

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