Wednesday, February 07, 2007

MAFF and MHLW Do Their Thing on Bird Flu. Fine. So Who's Keeping Watch on the Pandemic Scene?

Security-related incidents tend to have an impact well beyond what the situation warrants, and Japan is no exception. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that we are arguably even more prone to overreact than, say, the US. More risk averse, if I am to use a less controversial term. (A relatively low-charge case was the slowness in the Japanese return to international tourism, particularly to New York.) And authorities have been criticized in the past over the suffering of moyashi (bean sprout) farmers from a panic driven by what turned out to be faulty conclusions on the origin of a communicable disease. Thus, the approach that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare took to the bird flu outbreak in Miyazaki Prefecture seems carefully calibrated to combine the right measures of what look like standard containment measures for birds and possible transmission through humans (there's a lot of international collaboration going on through the WHO on bird flu if anybody's interested) and statements that allay fears over contagion among human population by way of eggs and chicken meat. This being mainly an animal husbandry issue, MAFF has rightly taken the lead. (Let's not speculate on what the response would have been like had the bird flu outbreak happened solely in our major sources for imports.) The new governor, Sonomanma Higashi, also appears to have put his celebrity governor status to good use in showing himself all over the national media biting into a juicy stick-load of yakitori.

So far so good. But there's nothing on the MAFF or, more properly, MHLW website to indicate that the government is doing anything about preparing for the human pandemic that will arise once the H5 or H7 viruses manage to make the mutative leap to easy human-to-human transmission. And if not the government, who else? (Actually, this article tells us that, in the US, the private sector at least is looking into the implications and making preparations.)

In Japan, this is a mainly a job for MHLW, but it must be coordinated across ministries at cabinet or sub-cabinet level. Residents of Japan should hope that the authorities prepare us well, and soon, for what looks like a high-probability event over the long run.

FYI, Eurasia Group has been on this case for some time. This year, EG lists the Top 7 Political Risks here for your downloading pleasure. Note that there is an overall document as well as an eighth, unnumbered PDF file on four critical long-term risks, and pandemic influenza is one of them.


sdddd22 said...
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Sophie said...


The long-term risks are interesting. They are not that long-term, and they circle around resource and fossil fuel depletion by rather stating 'resource nationalism' and 'global trade protectionism' than the real thing. These two risks might only be the first hints of resource depletion. When Iran turns from oil exporter to oil importer (which might happen in less than 10 years), is that resource nationalism ?

These risks do not state ecosystem destruction, which is very apparent in China, Indonesia, and other countries right now, as a short or long term risk.

Jun Okumura said...

I have not consulted with any of my Eurasia Group friends and colleagues in writing this response. Thus, they are strictly my personal views and nothing else.


Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I believe they are well reflected in the portfolio on display on your website.

Yes, you are right, the long-range risks are not that long-term. There is a good reason for that. Eurasia Group is political risk analysis advisory firm whose clients are mostly private businesses and a few state enterprises, and they are heavily weighted toward the financial sector. So, for the purposes of the 2007 risk documents and the EG clients, for whom the documents are mainly intended, any turn of events that has transnational political dimensions that affect the markets and projects more than a year or so into the future, is relevant long-range risk. From this perspective, "resource and fossil fuel depletion" is less relevant as long-range risk than "resource nationalism" and "global trade protectionism". Oil and natural gas (but not coal) depletion is a serious, truly long-term issue, but it does not of itself significantly affect the market for the time being.

As for Iran, if it turns into an oil importer in less than ten year, it will not be due to repletion of its reserves, but as the result of a combination of Iran's resource nationalism and involvement in geopolitical conflicts that forces Iran to continue to develop and produce far below its geological potential.

What you call state ecosystem destruction and I call environmental destruction/degradation (maybe something is lost in translation) is surely a serious problem, now and into the future; in fact, looking ahead, in a for-clients-only document, Eurasia Group identifies environmental degradation as an extremely serious political risk for China. But you are probably referring to the more global reach of the issue. Again, I refer you to the market-oriented nature of the EG analysis. If environmental degradation becomes important to markets as a transnational political risk, it is conceivable, indeed likely, that EG, will address the issue. (For example, if EG had been in existence during the late 80s and early 90s, it might have been compelled to do so.) For the time being, though, you will have to turn to non-profit think tanks, governments and international organizations for the required analysis.