New book by S. J. Beard and Julius Weitzdörfer examines the obstacles to recovery following the 3/11 Tsunami in Japan

11 March 2021

10 years ago, the 3/11 Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Triple-Disaster struck Eastern Japan. Unleashing unprecedented tremors and a devastating tsunami, damaging one million buildings, and rendering 300,000 victims displaced and dispossessed, it was the costliest disaster in history prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic. In their new book, Simon Beard and Julius Weitzdörfer tell the story of a second disaster that came in its wake, as former home-owners and business people found themselves in need of loans to rebuild and invest while being unable to pay off pre-disaster debts.

Double Debt Disaster offers a detailed examination of this increasingly serious and widespread, yet underexamined, phenomenon of 'double-loan problems' (nijû saimu mondai), which precipitate private and corporate insolvency, threaten financial institutions, jeopardize disaster recovery, and entrench social inequality. The convergence of growing risk from natural hazards, from projected sea-level rise, storm surges, floods, and other extreme weather events, coupled with ever-higher levels of public and private indebtedness will soon propel the quest for micro-and macro-economic policy solutions to such problems from regional to global attention. No case is more instructive for understanding these problems than the 3/11 disaster. 

Treating issues of property-, insurance-, debtor-creditor-, social welfare-, charity-, financial-, and insolvency law, this volume examines double-loan problems from the perspective of social justice and disaster recovery. After analysing the issue, it assesses the law and policy responses to disaster-induced debt. Drawing on Japanese and western scholarship, the study then critically discusses normative concepts underlying disaster relief, disaster capitalism, and social justice considerations. Finally, based on the socioeconomic situation, the legal analysis, and the justice considerations, it gives policy recommendations to improve the way in which burdens of uninsured risk and recovery are to be shared as a lesson for future disasters, including the current pandemic.

The book concludes that it is hard to fully account for double-loan problems, and even harder to remedy them, using only traditional risk finance mechanisms and equity-based principles of justice. In part, this is due to tensions between competing conceptions of victimhood and the desire not to discriminate between the victims of disasters. As a solution, the study proposes an alternative grounding for incorporating social justice into disaster law, based not upon equity but precaution and prevention. Socioeconomic disasters, such as double loan problems, predictably follow catastrophic disasters, and justice, as well as welfare, require that policymakers take sustainable steps to avoid them.

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