Boxing day tsunami: 10 years later

It is almost 10 years since an earthquake of magnitude 9.1 struck of the coast of Indonesia. The earthquake was one of the highest magnitude ever felt on earth and was the cause of a 20m high wave that traveled 3km inland which killed 275,000 people over 14 countries. most of the deaths and damage occurred  in Indonesia. Unbelievable amounts of damage were done to Indonesia and as the 10th anniversary of this event approaches on boxing day, the focus is on how life has been changed for the people of Indonesia and those other places affected and how well countries have responded to rebuilding themselves and their inhabitants lives.

One of the long-term effects of this disaster that can be overlooked is the effect on population demographics in particular areas. Many of the victims of the tsunami were young children and this has led to some areas seeing a gap in the population. Lambada, a small village outside Banda Aceh, is an example of this. In this village there are hardly any children under the age of 10 which is due to all but 2 of the villages children being killed by the tsunami. With so many people in situations similar to those in Lambada, there has been an increase in the number of people suffering from mental illnesses with 5% of all sufferers having a severe condition. This effect of the tsunami is also overlooked due to the physical needs of people being so obvious, meaning the emotional suffering of victims was not given so much focus. many victims were not able to talk about their grief as everyone was suffering to equal extent and this is one to the reasons why mental health issues are so big now.

Then and now: the progress since 2004 (photo credit: telegraph.co.uk)

The responses in the long-term to this disaster however have helped those left behind to try to rebuild their lives as well as prepare for future tsunami events. The Indian ocean holds the location to some of the most active plate boundaries on the planet and therefore the chances of another tsunami occurring must not be ignored. As a result there have been increased ways of monitoring for possible earthquakes that could cause another tsunami and also the development of tsunami early warning systems and evacuation plans. There are 10 buoys located around the Indian ocean constantly monitoring the water around them for any changes that could indicate the presence of a tsunami. other technology includes 100 tidal gauges to measure changes in sea level and seismometers to measure the strength of earthquakes which could highlight those earthquakes that could be strong enough to cause a tsunami. However all these warnings will be useless if the individual countries cannot warn their populations and also if people do not know how to respond in an emergency. However many countries have developed ways of warning people quickly. In Thailand, should a tsunami occur warnings are sent out over the TV and radios, government hotlines have been set up for this emergency and there are systems for informing people of tsunami’s through emergency text messaging. there are also sirens in coastal areas that will warn the population to evacuate. There were no such systems before the 2004 tsunami and so should another tsunami occur, hopefully these systems will save a lot of lives. Often with disasters the risk can be significantly reduced by informing people of how to help themselves in an emergency, it is this way that humans can make a disaster like a tsunami a lot less risky to the population.

Rebuilding programs in the countries effected were often funded by donations from the international public and NGO’s such as UNICEF who invested money into rebuilding programs aiming to provide a long-term and sustainable benefit such as the construction of 350 earthquake resistant schools. When disasters strike the usual response is to rebuild what was destroyed. However in areas where the hazard is likely to occur again, rebuilding homes and schools as they were before is not good enough as they are likely to be destroyed when the next disaster hits. therefore rebuilding homes and schools to be stronger than before increases the chances of those buildings surviving the major damage of another earthquake of tsunami which will mean the investments made by charities will benefit people long into the future. UNICEF also provided upgraded water and sanitation in public buildings such as schools but also in the new homes that were built which will improve people’s lives in other ways too and reduce unnecessary deaths from water-borne diseases. people’s lives have been improved for the better in ways that have not been expected such as the elimination of malaria in many regions in Aceh and years of armed conflict have been put to an end. This shows that it often takes a big disaster like this to solve many other problems.

The boxing day tsunami will never be forgotten. The extreme damage to life, economy and property was extensive but the efforts of the world have helped to rebuild the lives of those who survived. The disaster in a way did have positives as it pushed world governments to invest in early warning systems and educate those of highest risk on how to prepare for disaster and what to do should another tsunami occur, and this has the potential to save a lot of lives in the future. The responses from NGO’s and aid money helped also to solve problems such as conflict, disease and education. There have been many improvements since the tsunami, though it is sad to think that it takes such a large disaster involving the deaths of thousands to encourage these improvements to take place. It is hard to know how many less would have died if there had been warnings and evacuation systems in place, but at least we know that the improvements made may prevent the scale of the 2004 boxing day tsunami from happening again.

Sources

  • facts about the 2004 boxing day tsunami sourced from: http://www.thebcom.org/ourwork/reliefwork/96-the-boxing-day-tsunami-facts-and-figures.html?showall=1
  • long-term effects on population demographics and mental health sourced from: https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/25841467/the-village-with-no-child-over-10/
  • responses to the tsunami (early warning systems) sourced from: http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/12/22/Tsunami-early-warning-systems/
  • responses to the tsunami (rebuilding and NGO’s) sourced from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/rebuilding-sri-lanka-after-the-flood-1-3636327 and http://www.unicef.org.au/Discover/unicef-australia-blog/December-2014/Building-back-strong-after-the-Boxing-Day-tsunami.aspx
  • Information from the sources above, belong to their respective owners.
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