The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – Triggering engagement in Disaster Risk Management (DRM)
In 2004 December, Sri Lanka faced the worst disaster in its history - the Indian Ocean Tsunami. More than 35,000 people lost their lives and around 5,000 people went missing. At the time of the Tsunami, Sri Lanka did not have a proper legal and institutional mechanism to manage disaster risk. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Government made very serious efforts to establish a mechanism to avoid dramatic loss of life in future disaster events.
Subsequently, the Disaster Management Act was passed and the National Council for Disaster Management, chaired by the President, was established. A Ministry of Disaster Management (MoDM) was created and charged with the disaster risk management (DRM) portfolio and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) was established July 2005 to implement DRM programs across the country.
With these mechanisms in place, the Government began strengthening disaster preparedness, especially for tsunamis. Three pieces were put in place including: i) development of a tsunami early warning system; ii) implementation of awareness raising programs, from the grassroots to national levels; and, iii) regular evacuation drills were conducted in all coastal villages. The system has proven successful as the DMC issued Tsunami evacuation warnings in September 2007 and April 2014, which resulted in the safe evacuation of coastal communities.
The tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, didn’t only leave behind wreckage and corpses. It also left behind the PLTD Apung 1, a power-generating barge that was docked in Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheue port when the disaster struck. It might have pumped out electricity for a few more decades, easing electricity shortages throughout Indonesia, before heading to the scrap heap.
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Instead, it was lifted by the tsunami and deposited several kilometers inland, smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. When I first arrived in Banda Aceh in 2006, people were living in houses right next to it. A makeshift road worked its way around the massive obstacle. A box sat on a chair nearby, with a hand-written sign asking for donations for tsunami victims. The question we all had was: What on earth are they going to do with it?
In June 2009 Samoa was the set for the popular TV program Survivor. It was a fantastic choice. It is one of those picture-perfect places–shady palms, trees dripping with fruit, blossoming hibiscus, all framed by powder sand beaches. It is a vastly understated paradise.
A few months later, the country was once again centre stage. This time for something utterly distressing and heart-breaking as the country embarked on the harrowing search for real life survivors after they were struck by a powerful tsunami on 29 September 2009.
Galu afi means “wave of fire” and is the traditional Samoan word used to describe a tsunami. It describes the force that gains momentum as the wave generates and the sheer destruction that it brings to bear. That is what happened here.
March 11, 2011. This day became an unforgettable day for Japanese people. A massive earthquake and tsunami left more than 15,000 people dead, and over 7,000 people are still missing (as of June 24, 2011).
Since my hometown is in Miyagi prefecture, the area most affected by the disaster, I went back to my hometown and decided to help as a volunteer.
We see donation appeals everywhere these days - to help the people in Japan, to help the people in Darfur, to help the people in Haiti. What influences our decision to give? An interesting study comes from British psychologists, who analyzed how individuals respond to donation appeals in the wake of man-made disasters - like war - versus natural disasters. The authors around Hanna Zagefka from Royal Holloway University in London found that natural disasters elicit more donations than those caused by people. Their explanation: people tend to assign some blame to the victims of man-made disaster, while they blame no one for being overrun by a Tsunami.
On the surface, the pace of life in the Pacific island country of Samoa is slow. Island time. That’s an impression that’s reinforced when touring the idyllic string of resorts and beach fales (small timber and thatch tourist cottages, often without walls and open to the tropical breeze) along the South East coast of Upolu, Samoa. You can watch the heat rise in a haze across the ridiculously tranquil blue waters and golden sands, as coconut palms wave, and tourists enjoy a weekend drink in the seafront restaurant of the locally-owned and recently rebuilt Tafua beach fales.
So many feelings and thoughts as I watch and digest the earthquake in Chile…some of them very relevant to understanding the importance of disaster preparedness in South Asia, a region that is exposed to so many natural shocks.
Immediate feelings of admiration and pride. The incredible reaction from Michele Bachelet as the leader of the whole country: less than an hour after the earthquake at the center to manage disasters, gathering the facts, coming out to tell the people of Chile what was happening, and taking a helicopter to the worst affected areas. She was not dramatic. Quite knowledgeable, deferring to the experts on things she didn’t understand, and empathic throughout. Not looking down on people, not overly reassuring, but holding. One felt glad to have her as a President in this moment; sure she would do the right thing. No ego and the right tone.
|Explaining the housing program admistered by the Multi-Donor Fund to a group of residents.|
(Geumala Yatim, who started working with communities in Aceh soon after the 2004 tsunami hit, is writing a book about her experiences there. This is adapted from one of its chapters).
At the time, I was at my friend Oscar’s house, getting ready to attend a Christmas party at another friend’s house. Oscar asked me to turn the TV on to CNN or BBC. “I heard there’s a big natural disaster somewhere on the tip of Sumatra. Aceh probably. Not sure,” he said. Up until we left the house, both channels were relaying non-stop reports on natural disasters in Thailand and Sri Lanka. No reports on what was happening on the tip of Sumatra thus far.
|Pig farmers in Nias pull a 'waste disappearing act' by converting manure into useable energy.|
The clean pig pen I saw was in the village of Tetehosi, Idanagawo sub-district owned by a farm group with the name Ternak Harapan Maju which means, “Farm Hopes to Progress.” The pen is managed by priest Sabar Markus Lase, not only because he knows about pig farming, but also because the pig pen is in the backyard of the church.
For most of us, when a disaster happens in a far away place, we only get brief glimpses of the immediate aftermath and subsequent recovery efforts – often only through news media or occasionally close-by bloggers. During four years of reconstruction after the devastating tsunami that hit the Indonesian province of Aceh in 2004, few have seen the rebuilding process like those who are part of the recovery efforts.
The Multi-Donor Fund (MDF), which is managed by the World Bank with contributions and guidance from 15 other international donor partners, continues to work on the ground in Aceh and Nias. The reconstruction has been extremely successful, with more than 100,000 new houses constructed, more than 90,000 hectares of agricultural land restored and 2,500 kilometers of road built. In late 2008, the MDF held a photo competition for people involved with projects or agencies related to reconstruction. The resulting pictures are not professionally created, but they give a beautifully close and comprehensive view of the rebuilding of Aceh.
(Hover your mouse over "Notes" to see information about each photo)