top of page


1995 - Kobe Earthquake

Kobe Earthquake - The Great Hanshin earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter Scale, causes widespread destruction, killing thousands and making many more homeless

The earthquake was an "inland shallow earthquake" – which occur along active faults. Even at lower magnitudes  they can be extremely destructive as their hypocenters are located less than 20km below the surface.


The focus of the earthquake was located 16km beneath its epicentre on the northern end of Awaji Island, 20km from the city of Kobe. The tremors lasted for approximately 20 seconds, and during this time the south side of the Nojima Fault moved 1.5m to the right and 1.2m downwards.


The earthquake cost around ten trillion yen - $100bn – in damage, 2.5% of Japan's GDP at the time. The death toll of the disaster was around 6,434 – of which around 4,600 victims were from Kobe. Roughly 80% of the victims were crushed to death by collapsed houses and fallen furniture.

Casualties were concentrated in neighbourhoods which were crowded with old wooden houses along narrow streets, which led to the rapid spread of fires through the city. Primary effects of the earthquake included the ruin of 150,000 buildings, the destruction of 120 of 150 quays in the port and the collapse of 1km of the Hanshin Expressway.

One in five of the buildings in the worst-hit area were completely destroyed or uninhabitable after the disaster. Around 22% of the offices in the central business district were unusable.

The earthquake was a major wake-up call for Japanese disaster prevention authorities. In the aftermath, rubber blocks were installed to help absorb shock during an earthquake and buildings were rebuilt further apart to help reduce collateral damage.

After the earthquake, volunteers from across the country converged on Kobe to help victims and the recovery, which was a pivotal moment in the emergence of volunteerism as a major form of civic engagement.

In December 1995, the Japanese government declared 17 January a national "Disaster Prevention and Volunteerism Day" – and the week from 15 to 21 January a national "Disaster Prevention and Volunteerism Week".


Further Reading


Scientific American - The Kobe Earthquake and Early Antiseismic Architecture

Magnum  - Kobe Earthquake Pictures

1995 - Bosnian genocide

Bosnian Genocide + Balkan War Ceasefire - massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Serb forces prompts UN and NATO to intervene in the conflict and force a ceasefire

On July 11, 1995, over three years into the Balkan War, Bosnian Serb militants overran a UN-established safe zone in the eastern town of Srebrenica, separated about 8,000 Muslim men and boys from the women who had sought shelter in the area, led them into fields and warehouses in surrounding villages, and massacred them over the course of three days. It was the worst single atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II and is generally considered to be an act of genocide.

With the support of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government in Belgrade, the Bosnian Serbs — under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic, who is now in prison for a range of war-crimes charges — were attempting to liquidate Bosnia's Muslim population as part of an attempt to carve a "greater Serbia" out of the ruins of Yugoslavia, the polyglot communist state whose breakup into seven different countries began in the early 1990s. Bosnia has sizable Muslim, Croat, and Serbian populations, and it was the one republic of Yugoslavia without a clear ethnic majority.

Milosevic, Karadzic, and Bosnian Serb militants under the leadership of Ratko Mladic used ethnic cleansing to cleave off as much of Bosnia as possible for the Serbian-dominated remains of Yugoslavia.

The Srebrenica massacre was the inevitable result: an act of mass murder that conveyed the brutal message that Muslims weren't safe anywhere inside of the country and that the UN and the international community were unable or unwilling to protect them.

The UN had established a demilitarized zone in Srebrenica in 1993, creating an area where Muslims who had been forced out of their homes elsewhere in Bosnia could find safety from the Bosnian Serb onslaught.

Bosnian Muslim militants allied with the government in Sarajevo had carved out an enclave in eastern Bosnia surrounding the Srebrenica safe zone. The Serbs wanted to take this pocket of resistance, and their military leaders resented the UN providing shelter for displaced Muslims. A declassified CIA memo from the time described the handful of UN eastern safe zones as "fish bones in the throat of the Serbs."

The massacre had been planned in advance. The week of the atrocity, Serbian forces had taken surrounding villages, forcing some 20,000 refugees inside the UN safe area. Serbian forces had also kidnapped 30 Dutch peacekeepers, a blunt instrument of blackmail and leverage over the Dutch peacekeeping force guarding the enclave. And they had started shelling Srebrenica on July 6, making it abundantly clear that they would not respect the UN's humanitarian safe area.

The Serb forces were greatly aided by the international community's indifference. Though the UN wanted a peacekeeping deployment of about 6,000 in the area, by the time of the massacre only about 600 lightly armed Dutch troops were guarding the town. When Mladic and the Bosnian Serb army entered Srebrenica, the peacekeepers put up little resistance and even called off airstrikes when the Serbs threatened to kill their Dutch hostages. Peacekeepers were also later accused of destroying video evidence of their inaction.

Far from protecting vulnerable civilians, the "safe zone" had just concentrated them in a single location that the UN apparently had little intention of actually defending. But they weren't the only party at fault: As a Human Rights Watch report from late 1995 recounts, the NATO states remained complacent and indecisive even as the enclave's fall was imminent, despite the clearly genocidal intentions of the Serbian forces.

Serb forces started deporting all women and children from the enclave as soon as Srebrenica fell on July 11 and held nearly all of the area's Muslim males for "interrogation." More than 8,000 of them would be killed in the following days.

The massacre galvanized international opinion and led to a US and NATO intervention in Bosnia's civil war. Shortly after the killings, NATO bombs started dropping bombs on Serbian positions. In November 1995, Milosevic and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović signed the US-brokered Dayton Accords, which left Bosnia as a single country while creating an autonomous Serb "republic" behind the Bosnian Serb frontline, in areas that had been ethnically cleansed of their Muslim population.

The accords ended the conflict. But they led to an internal partitioning of Bosnia while arguably awarding Serb forces for their atrocities.

Srebrenica played an outsize role in bringing about this indecisive end to the conflict. And the atrocity was on such a massive scale that victims are still being disinterred from mass graves in the area and identified.


Further Reading

Wikipedia - Bosnian Genocide

Balkan Insight - Uncomfortable Truths: War Crimes in the Balkans

IB Times'Butcher of Bosnia', siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica massacre

Brookings - Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended

bottom of page