|The Long Road to Recovery: Community Responses to Industrial Disasters (UNU, 1996, 307 p.)|
|2 Responses to Minamata disease|
Students of natural disasters have observed that communities typically move through characteristic stages of recovery after a major catastrophe. The last of these is a period marked by symbolic construction projects and other initiatives that memorialize the event and attest to the onset of a "new beginning." On a recent trip to Minamata (November 1992), participants in the Second Minamata International Conference (itself intended to be a therapeutic response to the community's problems) were taken on a tour of several such facilities. These included a waterfront park on reclaimed land that covered the site of Chisso's sludge-dumping operations; an ornamental bamboo garden and display centre that is intended both to demonstrate the aesthetic possibilities of landfills and to showcase a valuable but neglected bamboo handicrafts industry; and the newly opened Minamata Disease Data Hall, which contains officially selected photographs and other displays of information about the disease and its consequences.
To some extent, the existence of these projects reflects growing community willingness to reject Minamata's pariah status among Japanese cities and to fashion a new collective self-image and a new economic base in the manner suggested by Maruyama. However, it will probably be a long time before Minamata completes the intended transition from troubled industrial city to showplace centre of disaster tourism, traditional handicrafts, and ecodevelopment. The psychological and political gap that separates victims and non-victims is wide. Many victims are deeply suspicious of the motives of government and industry leaders who are promoting the community's new image. The existence of a privately supported "Disease Victims Museum," which contests official versions of local history, is only one indicator of the differences. Other signs of disunity emerged in a flurry of critical comments about the recovery process that were delivered by local citizens in the international conference audience. Such public displays of discord are unusual at conferences in Japan. Though invited by the conference organizers, representatives of the Chisso Corporation were notably absent.
It is probably too early to tell whether these recent developments signal the beginning of the end of Minamata's long struggle with the consequences of its namesake disease. What seems amply clear is that the recovery process has entered a new stage. At the very least, denial and foot-dragging have been replaced by recognition and willingness to make a start on the process of community regeneration. The need to face up to the realities of industrial hazard as soon as possible and to begin a broad search for appropriate solutions is one of the indispensable lessons of Minamata.