Case study: tsunami

On Sunday 26 December 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake occurred off the West Coast of Northern Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. This caused the Indian Ocean tsunami that affected 13 countries and killed approximately 230,000 people.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 affected 13 countries. The epicentre was close to Indonesia

This tsunami was particularly devastating because:

  • The earthquake which caused the tsunami was magnitude 9.
  • The epicentre was very close to some densely populated coastal communities, eg Indonesia. They had little or no warning. The only sign came just before the tsunami struck when the waterline suddenly retreated, exposing hundreds of metres of beach and seabed.
  • There was no Indian Ocean tsunami warning system in place. This could have saved more people in other countries further away from the epicentre.
  • Many of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean are LEDCs so they could not afford to spend much on preparation and prevention.
  • In some coastal areas, mangrove forests had been removed to make way for tourist developments and therefore there was less natural protection.

Social impacts of the tsunami (effects on people)

Hundreds of tents where people in Indonesia lived after houses were destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami

  • 230 000 deaths.
  • 1.7 million homeless.
  • 5-6 million needing emergency aid, eg food and water.
  • Threat of disease from mixing of fresh water, sewage and salt water.
  • 1,500 villages destroyed in northern Sumatra.

Economic impacts of the tsunami (effects on money and jobs)

The commercial district of Banda Aceh, Indonesia reduced to rubble after the Indian Ocean tsunami

  • Ports ruined.
  • Fishing industry devastated - boats, nets and equipment destroyed. An estimated 60% of Sri Lanka’s fishing fleet destroyed.
  • Reconstruction cost billions of dollars.
  • Loss of earnings from tourism - foreign visitors to Phuket dropped 80% in 2005.
  • Communications damaged, eg roads, bridges and rail networks.

Environmental impacts of the tsunami

  • Crops destroyed.
  • Farm land ruined by salt water.
  • 8 million litres of oil escaped from oil plants in Indonesia.
  • Mangrove forests along the coast were destroyed.
  • Coral reefs and coastal wetlands damaged.

Responses to the tsunami

The army search the rubble for bodies after the tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and local authorities typically have immediate and secondary responses to devastation of this kind.

Immediate responses

  • Search and rescue.
  • Emergency food and water.
  • Medical care.
  • Temporary shelter.
  • Re-establishing infrastructure and communications.

Secondary responses

  • Re-building and improving infrastructure and housing.
  • Providing jobs and supporting small businesses.
  • Giving advice and technical assistance.
A man carries a basket of posessions through the mess left by the tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Responses to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami can also be divided into short and long term:

Short-term responses

  • In many areas local communities were cut off and had to help themselves.
  • The authorities ordered quick burial or burning of the dead to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Food aid was provided to millions of people, eg from the World Food Programme.
  • $7 billion (just under £4.5billion) of aid was promised by foreign governments - but there were complaints that not all money pledged was given.
  • The British public gave £330 million through charities, eg the average Actionaid donation was £84 - their best ever response.

Long-term responses

  • Reconstruction is still taking place.
  • International scale: an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system has now been set up.
  • Local scale: some small-scale sustainable development projects have been set up by charities to aid recovery and help local people help themselves to rebuild and set up small businesses.
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