It’s been three days since the initial earthquake that triggered a deadly Tsunami. Millions of Japanese are without power, and as we pointed out in our news update series on the Japanese crisis, store shelves in the afflicted areas have been wiped bare. Even hundreds of miles from the damage, Japanese residents are stocking up on food, water and emergency provisions.
Within hours of the Chilean earthquake, gangs and looters hit the streets. A similar scenario unfolded in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Videos of looters in stores taking everything from HDTV’s to food and diapers were readily available. In Haiti, gang violence broke out within days of the earthquake.
In any disaster, when emergency personnel are diverted to the crisis zone, chances are that violence in non-police patrolled areas is going to see a spike. This happened in Chile within hours.
After witnessing similar events in recent years in crisis hot spots around the world, the situation in Japan begs the question: Where are all the looters?
Perhaps even more impressive than Japanâ€™s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting, and Iâ€™m not the only one curious about this.
This is quite unusual among human cultures, and itâ€™s unlikely it would be the case in Britain. During the 2007 floods in the West Country abandoned cars were broken into and free packs of bottled water were stolen. There was looting in Chile after the earthquake last year â€“ so much so that troops were sent in; in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina saw looting on a shocking scale.
Why do some cultures react to disaster by reverting to everyone for himself, but others â€“ especially the Japanese â€“ display altruism even in adversity?
Is it a cultural thing? Perhaps it is. At least in the initial stages of crisis.
We have yet to hear reports of looting-related activity in Japan. For the most part, the population seems to be dealing with the crisis in a non-violent manner. But there may be numerous reasons for this.
Japan is the third largest economy in the world. In terms of technological advancement and warning systems, they are top notch. They likely have a solid national emergency response plan for earthquakes and volcanoes considering their geographic location. Even with all of this, they could not prevent a massive, wide-spread national catastrophe.
Based on reports, the Japanese have already started handing out emergency iodine packets to treat immediate radiation absorption around overheating nuclear reactors. And according to the story from The Telegraph, shop owners are willingly helping residents in need of food and water.
In those areas destroyed by Tsunami, the fact is that there is nothing to loot. It’s all gone. There are no grocery stores or electronics stores. Unlike in Hurricane Katrina, the people in Northern Japan wouldn’t have anywhere to take an HDTV even if it was available to loot because they no longer have homes.
The earthquake is over. The Tsunami has passed. The nuclear crisis is now the primary concern, as it should be. While officials scramble to evacuate residents, they will inundate cities outside of the current danger zone, certainly putting a strain on supplies in areas like Tokyo.
For a time, the Japanese government will likely be able to provide help, especially with assistance from Western nations like the US.
But what if those reactors really blow – and it becomes official? What if it really goes Chernobyl on us?
The panic that will follow would likely be unprecedented in Japan – even more so than anything that followed World War II. There are millions more people, and they are all dependent on functioning electricity, gas, water, sewage, and just-in-time food delivery.
While there may be no looting now, and for the most part, the people of Japan are dealing with this crisis in a peaceful manner, we suggest that without external assistance from the US or other nations who can provide Japan with fresh water, food and medical supplies, Japan can easily take a turn for the worse and look like New Orleans or Haiti within a matter of days.
Had the problems facing Japan stopped with the Tsunami, then the threat of looting and violence would be unlikely. But Japan is still in crisis, and until the issues surrounding their nuclear reactors is resolved, we can only wait and see.
Hat tip Clark