The United Nations nuclear energy report which says Japan underestimated the tsunami that hit the Fukushima power plant, has inadvertently exposed the lethal and inherent flaws in world-wide government planning methods for emergency events. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives a technical perspective on a tragedy in its draft report just published, inadvertently exposing fundamental strategic failures in the way governments anticipate, plan and prepare for humanitarian hazards….

Frankly, if Japan can’t pull it off who else can? Governments look at natural hazards as isolated phenomena but fail to see they must plan ways of preventing these events triggering a whole sequence of hazards which have compounding impacts. The enormous cost-saving in human and financial terms of effective prevention cannot be over-emphasised.

What’s the toll, in addition to the numbers who died, of 300,000 people being displaced, many permanently? What’s the cost of failure to mitigate predictable events in terms of derailing one of the world’s strongest economies? The failure to anticipate and plan strategically for future events puts all of us at risk. And the UN itself has failed to wake up to the transformation it needs to make in its own organisation to get ready for the challenges of the 21st Century which will be far more complicated and extreme. Governments are failing to give the UN the sort of support that an effectictive humanitarian organisation needs. They must give the UN a new remit – to be proactive rather than just responsive.Government thinking about plausible natural hazards tends to be fixed in “a silo-ed mentality” when it should be looking at many levels of causation and the sequential impact of one crisis upon another. When will the penny drop? Policymakers can be more predictive than they realise and therefore they are failing to take sufficient advantage of available scientific and technological advice. There are ways to be more anticipatory, more adaptive, more innovative and more collaborate to ensure we have the strategic leadership we need to deal with future threats of far greater dimensions and dynamics. The real question is, do governments have the will to follow up on the consequences of predicting what might be? They need to bring other creative thinkers into the policy-making process. By failing to take a longer-term strategic view, policymakers do not give themselves the opportunity to prioritise the sort of threats we might face in the future and therefore fail to look for solutions to those threats.