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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 February 7 - 13  > Gov’t policy to downsize Meteorological Agency hinders volcano monitoring
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2018 February 7 - 13 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Gov’t policy to downsize Meteorological Agency hinders volcano monitoring

February 12, 2018
In the wake of the recent eruption of Mt. Motoshirane (Gunma Prefecture) that killed one person, some Meteorological Agency staff pointed to the insufficient number of volcano observers, saying, “If we had had a manned observation station near the mountain, we could have detected the emergency much earlier.”

Japan has 111 active volcanoes and the Meteorological Agency keeps tabs on 50 of them 24/7 but with a remote monitoring system. Only146 workers in the agency are assigned to this duty, according to Akahata.

The agency operates four volcano monitoring centers in Tokyo, Sapporo, Sendai, and Fukuoka. Each center deals with nine to 20 volcanoes. A team of two to four workers works on a two-shift basis to keep an eye on images and data sent from cameras, seismometers, and other devices installed on and around volcanoes.

The root cause of the insufficiency of volcano observers is successive governments’ policy to cut the total number of Meteorological Agency staff. The staff size shrunk from its peak of 6,589 in 1978 to 5,120 in 2017. The number will be further slashed by some 50 in the next fiscal year.

Miyazaki Takaaki, a vice chair of a trade union in the Land Ministry, started his career at the Meteorological Agency, one of the ministry’s external organizations. He said that the volcano monitoring section and all the other sections in the agency are suffering from labor shortages. Miyazaki noted that further cuts in staff could make the maintenance of observation equipment difficult. He also said that collected data should be analyzed by experienced staff with sufficient knowledge and that such expertise should be passed down to younger staff. However, he went on to say, since only a few workers in their early 30s are in the agency, skill-related issues could arise in the future.

Miyazaki stressed that the union will work to push the government to assign more staff to the agency in order to maintain and promote the agency’s activities.

The Japanese Communist Party has urged the government to improve the observation system of volcanoes for years. JCP member of the House of Representatives Takahashi Chizuko in a meeting of the House Special Committee on Disasters in October 2014 criticized the government’s streamlining policy for damaging volcano observation. She said that monitoring activities conducted near volcanoes are essential

Past related article:
> JCP calls for improvement in monitoring of volcanoes [October 4, 2014]

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