Asia Biz News - Asian Business News and Tenders

Natural Disasters Clipped Japan's Exports in September

October 18, 2018

A major typhoon and an earthquake in Japan’s northernmost main island created havoc with Japan’s exports in September.

For those curious about the impacts of climate change and other natural disasters on an economy, look no further than Japan.

The first impact came from Typhoon Jebi. The strongest cyclone to hit Japan since Typhoon Yancy in 1993, it formed on August 27, 2018, and reached its peak sustained intensity of 120 mph (195 km/h) on August 31, only four days later. It made its first landfall on Japan over Shikoku, then a second far more damaging one over the Kansai region near Osaka as the equivalent of a class 3 hurricane.

In addition to the normal expected damage to business and government buildings, homes, and infrastructure such as roadways, Typhoon Jebi also had a few other ‘storm tricks’ up its sleeve. It hit a 100 meter tall (328 feet) ferris wheel and caused it to spin faster than it ever had run before – but without damage. Jebi also pushed a powerful storm surge onshore in the Kansai region, lifting a 2,591ton tanker up in the water and throwing it into the bridge that connects mainland Japan and the Kansai International Airport. (Miraculously, though the bridge and the tanker were badly damaged, the ship’s crew made it through with only minor injuries.) The typhoon’s storm surge, wind damage and pummeling waves of water ended up flooding out the Kansai airport’s runways. Approximately 3,000 people were stranded at the airport at the time Jebi made its second landfall. The wreckage and flooding took days to deal with before flights could resume.

The cities of Osaka, Kobe and Osaka were all hit hard by the storm. Property damage and flooding was extensive.

Just a few days later, on September 4, the big island of Hokkaido at the northernmost regions of the country, was hit by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake. Besides causing major property damage, the quake knocked out power to over 3 million households. A main power station was knocked out of commission. There was fear that the Tomari nuclear plant, which depends on power to operate, would be in danger without power. But with its own internal backup systems providing electrical support for up to a week, external power was readily restored to it without any effect on operations or safety.

With an estimated 7% of all exports ordinarily passing through the Kansai airport, the airport’s shutdown had an immediate effect on the economy. Damage to businesses, inventory, and property created other problems. Hokkaido, which has many business and production operations present, also struggled with the impact of the serious earthquake, suffering both in rebuilding costs as well as downtime from power outages and repair needs.

The overall impact of the combined hits on the country was a fall in exports of 1.2 percent for Japan compared to the same month a year ago. Those exports are expected to pick up again before the end of the year, provided no other natural disasters hit before the year is out.