Hosted by The Government Of Japan, brought to you by Reuters Plus

Watch the highlights from the event

Business leaders and experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum recently cited that extreme weather, migration caused by climate change and natural disasters are the three risks they’re most likely to face in 2019. With this in mind, security is at the heart of everything we do as businesses, and as nations. And that’s why ‘Building resilient nations and businesses’ became the thought-provoking theme of a prestigious panel discussion hosted by the Japanese government on 27 February, and supported by the Japan External Trade Organization. Attended by a full house, many people from Singapore’s C-suites, academics and experts alike came to hear the speakers’ thoughts. The event was opened with these words from Mr. Yusuke Arai, deputy chief of mission, from the Embassy of Japan in Singapore:

“Natural disasters and extreme weather events will affect everyone’s life in all nations - both developed and developing. The ongoing, worsening climate change has impacted people hit by intensifying torrential rains, flooding and extreme heat. We have to face a harsh reality that like any other nation, Japan will continue to be affected by natural hazards in the future. However, Japan has overcome these challenges by learning lessons from previous events and better preparing for future occurrences and faster, and fully exploiting innovative skills and technologies.”

Japan is developing solid public-private partnerships that are working towards better preparation for and response to extreme weather events and natural disasters. This collaboration between central and local governments, industry and academia, a united force is leveraging the power of game-changing technologies for use in disaster forecasting, rescue, recovery and reconstruction. What’s more, they’re providing many valuable examples for other countries.

Dr. Shunichi Koshimura – a Tohoku University Professor and winner of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Award at the first ever Japan Open Innovation Prize – was one of the esteemed panel speakers at the event. He is integral to the development and operation of a real-time tsunami inundation forecast system that’s been incorporated into Japan’s national disaster response strategy. This technology can forecast tsunami inundation and its impact in record-breaking time. And it’s the first of its kind in the world to be applied to the real-life situations.

“Japan suffered from vast damage after the Tohoku tsunami in 2011. The inundation area was huge – up to 561km². And the economic losses were up to a quarter of Japan’s annual budget. So, in that sense we called this a national crisis,” according to Dr. Koshimura. “We learnt many lessons from this event. One implication – an important keyword for today – is how can we enhance disaster resilience? The ability of society to respond promptly and effectively to natural disasters and to exploit the lessons for the future. In 2011, it took a couple of days to get simulation results. Now it takes a couple of minutes, thanks to supercomputing technologies and crowd-resources of the network. That’s the breakthrough. What’s more, we promise to send the report of the damage estimation to the Prime Minister’s office within 30 minutes,” he emphasises.

The technologies that allow such breakthrough forecasting and analysis are thanks to this alliance between industries, academics and governments and are integral to shaping resilience for communities across Japan. Dr. Koshimura and his partners have co-founded a university-oriented spin-off venture “RTi-cast, Inc.” to expand the capability of real-time tsunami inundation forecast system to other sectors and nations.

Another pioneering Japanese technological advance is in the field of water treatment. WOTA is a technology firm that’s leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to optimise the process. And it’s already being used to help provide showers and sewage capabilities following natural disasters in Japan. WOTA’s CEO, Riki Kitagawa – another panellist at the event - says his de-centralised water recycling system could have huge benefits for all countries who are victims of natural disasters, or live in water scarce areas.

“We aim to spread this all over the world. In Japan we launched our first product ‘WOTA BOX’ - it is especially for during or after disasters. We have already provided this several times in Japan following disasters – Hokkaido, for example. Only two people can take a shower with 100 litres normally. But with the same 100 litres, 100 people can take a shower with this product. Our ultimate goal is to give immediate access to water and sewage treatment. De-centralised water systems: we believe that this will make us resilient and have a sustainable future,” claimed Mr. Kitigawa.

WOTA was on show at the ‘Threats vs Technology’ event for all the guests to see for themselves. While JETRO had an exhibit on the topic of ASEAN smart city concepts, using Japanese technology. Also on display was a type of hybrid assisted limb (HAL) that is capable of reading the signals that reflects the wearer’s motion intent, originating from the brain. HAL is the brainchild of a company called Cyberdyne – and it has extraordinary potential to help in the aftermath of a natural disaster. For example, the HAL Lumbar type that was brought to the conference support could mitigate the risk of back pain during heavy lifting. It could also be used to help elderly to train their body core, preventing disuse of physical functions arising from over-work. This pioneering technology is a step away from the programmed robot space, and a move towards the human-bot space. HAL has already been used in Hiroshima and Okayama, which was struck by heavy rain in Western Japan in 2018.

All these technologies have one thing in common: making sure nations and businesses are as resilient as possible in the future. During the discussion, panellist Lauren Sorkin, APAC Managing Director of 100 Resilient Cities, was asked about the role of climate change in the increasing number of natural hazards the world is facing.

“First and foremost, understanding what resilience is as a concept is important. At 100 resilient cities we define it as the ability for individuals, businesses, cities and systems to respond no matter what kind of shock and stress they face, and continue to thrive,” she said. “It’s indisputable that climate change is causing more extreme weather events. Our APAC cities and nations are bearing the brunt of those disasters. We are facing the highest rate of urbanisation. We are seeing mass migration, mass changes in our cities and we are not seeing the infrastructure and social networks being able to keep up with that change. My organisation therefore takes a very holistic, resilience-based approach in strengthening cities,” she adds.

As the panel discussion continued, another hot topic up for debate was the role of creating secure smart cities powered by advanced technologies, such as Singapore has achieved. The fourth panellist, Dr. Ayesha Khanna – an Artificial Intelligence and smart city expert, and Founder of ADDO AI – was quick to point out that in Singapore, and many other places in the world, cyberattacks are becoming a new type of threat. For both manmade and natural threats, Dr. Khanna says AI is playing an important security role.

“AI can be used in all three phases of disaster management. Prediction: so that you can actually predict when a disaster might occur, thanks to Big Data, sensors, cloud computing and high-performance computing. Prevention: the mobilisation of the right resources at the right time. And management: how do you manage emergency response? You need a multi-sectoral approach on how to manage disaster recovery. All of these three things can be much better managed by the use of AI and especially now we have IoT and a lot of data collected,” she commented.

After the panel discussion, the audience had the chance to hear more about Japan’s ability to cope with natural disasters. Hokkaido – Japan’s second largest island – has been showcasing its multi-sectoral approach as a way of dealing with such threats. It suffered an earthquake just last September, but is already back on its feet again and welcoming tourism and investment. Hokkaido’s government representative in Singapore, Nazrul Bin Buang, gave his thoughts on the bright future the island and the rest of Japan have ahead of themselves, thanks to an ability to remain resilient.

“Since 2011, the number of tourists traveling it Hokkaido has been steadily increasing. As of two years ago it had reached the level of 2.8 million people. So, we are ambitious for the next year – we want to attract up to 5 million visitors. We need to develop the infrastructure further, such as developing the airport. We will soon have direct flights from Finland, for example. Next year, Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics. In 2025, we have events like World Expo and in 2030 is another watershed moment – Hokkaido is preparing for running the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. There will be a bullet train from Tokyo to Hokkaido directly,” he told the audience.

In conclusion, Japan’s advanced technologies are used not only for constructing a more convenient society, such as the building of smart cities, but also for improving social resilience, such as disaster reduction, disaster prevention and reconstruction. With talk of cyber vests for dogs, robotic arms that withstand any heat and small robots that can fit through unusual or minute gaps, there are clearly exciting times ahead for Japan and its technological innovation lessons for the world.

MODERATOR / Reuters Plus Correspondent

Melanie Ralph

Melanie Ralph is a broadcast journalist at Reuters, based in Singapore. In her 13 years of journalism, Melanie has worked across a broad range of platforms including print, online, radio and television. She has also moderated headline panels consisting of CEOs and senior executives of global companies.

PANELIST / Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI

Dr. Ayesha Khanna

Dr. Ayesha Khanna is Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence (AI) advisory firm and incubator. She has been a strategic advisor on artificial intelligence, smart cities and fintech to the Singapore, Japanese and Dubai government. In 2017, ADDO AI was featured in Forbes magazine as one of four leading artificial intelligence companies in Asia. Most recently, Dr. Khanna was named one of Southeast Asia’s ground-breaking female entrepreneurs by Forbes magazine.

PANELIST / Co-Founder and CEO of WOTA

Riki Kitagawa

Riki is Co-Founder and CEO of WOTA, a technology firm leveraging artificial intelligence and big data to optimise water treatment processes. Riki’s passion lies in delivering freedom of access to water anytime, anywhere. This has fuelled over 10 years of multidisciplinary research experience in water treatment technology and involvement in projects for some of the largest infrastructure companies in Japan. At WOTA, Riki continues to design the water recycling process and user experience.

PANELIST / Professor at Tohoku University

Dr. Shunichi Koshimura

Dr. Koshimura is an award-winning Professor with over 20 years of experience in the field of natural disasters. He is also a Co-Founder of RTi-cast, a technology firm that offers real-time tsunami inundation damage forecast services to government organizations and commercial clients. His research focus lies in developing tsunami forecasting systems and measuring the social impacts of tsunami disasters through numerical modelling, earth observation and geo-informatics. He currently serves on the board of disaster management committees across Japan and works closely with the government in tsunami risk assessment and mitigation efforts.

PANELIST / Managing Director of 100 Resilient Cities

Lauren Sorkin

Lauren Sorkin is the Asia Pacific Managing Director for 100 Resilient Cities and is an environment and knowledge management specialist. She spent six years with the Asian Development Bank promoting climate responsive development in APAC. Her extensive experience has also seen her through research studies with the European Commission and Worldwatch Institute where she published work on biofuels, trans-boundary water management, climate change, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS.

PRESENTER / Blogger, Ninja Girls


Sakura is a member of the female blogger group, Ninja Girls. Born and raised in Japan, she became a permanent resident of Singapore in 2010 and has since focused on blogging her life in Singapore in the capacity of her appointment as Hokkaido’s Tourism ambassador.

PRESENTER / Officer, Hokkaido Gov Representative Office


Nazrul has been responsible for promoting economic trade activity between Hokkaido and ASEAN, including Singapore. He also supports ASEAN companies in their venture opportunities in Hokkaido and works with tourism partners in Singapore to promote Hokkaido as a travel destination.