The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing a critical examination of how communities and countries prepare for multiple, overlapping crises. Here are a few lessons the Japanese Red Cross Society learned after the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown ten years ago this month.
Seventy-five years ago this year, a nuclear weapon was used for the first time in warfare. Dropped from an American B-29 bomber on the port city of Hiroshima in western Japan, the bomb wiped nearly the entire city was off the map. Some 70,000 people were killed in the blink of an eye on that hot August morning in 1945.
Incredibly, a few dozen buildings within 5 kilometres of ground zero survived the blast.
One of them was the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. Located 1.5 kilometres from the bomb’s hypocentre, the reinforced concrete building was severely damaged, with part of its roof collapsed and all its windows blown in.
Within hours, thousands of badly burned, injured and sick people flocked to the site.
“One of the Japanese doctors told me that a thousand patients had been taken in on the day of the disaster,” ICRC delegate Marcel Junod wrote in his journal at the time. “Six hundred had died almost immediately and had been buried elsewhere, in the immediate vicinity of the hospital.”
By the end of the year, the death toll had risen to 140,000, with many victims succumbing to the effects of radiation sickness. Still, the hospital was able to save and care for many thousands of patients over the years and today it stands as a reminder of the lingering impact of nuclear weapons.