World Champion boxer Manny Pacquiao is a living icon in the Philippines, his legendary battles are well known and brought him considerable fame. This fame and recognition is being used by the Philippine government (through Project NOAH) to save lives and minimize losses from disasters—where an infographic gradient links flood depth to Pacquiao’s famous height. In other words, to encourage adoption of early warning advisories and make flood hazard projections more interesting, yellow colors on interactive flood hazard maps equate to flood levels up to Pacquiao’s knees, while a dangerous, bright red color corresponds to high flood levels that are taller than Pacquiao himself.
I began my professional career as a sub-district and district level administrator in India-a position that makes one responsible for pretty much everything- from making sure the water comes out of the taps and the garbage is collected in the morning to helping pull accident victims out from horrific accidents and facing down stone-pelting mobs. This early experience of being thrown into the deep end of the pool gives me a somewhat pragmatic sense of perspective and equanimity. But I still recall the horror and overwhelming grief that I felt when the full impact of the 2004 Tsunami started becoming clear. In Indonesia alone approximately 220,000 people lost their lives.
My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death." On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”
Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach - a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.
As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.
Authored by Elizabeth Frankenberg, Duncan Thomas, and Jed Friedman
Ten years after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Aceh provides an example of remarkable resilience and recovery that reflects the combination of individual ingenuity, family and community engagement and the impact of domestic and international aid. The tsunami devastated thousands of communities in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. Destruction was greatest in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, where an estimated 170,000 people perished and the built and natural environment was damaged along hundreds of kilometers of coastline. In response, the Indonesian government, donors, NGOs and individuals contributed roughly $7 billion in aid and the government established a high-level bureau based in Aceh to organize recovery work.
To shed light on how individuals, communities, and families were affected by and responded to the disaster in the short and medium term, we established the Study of the Tsunami Aftermath and Recovery (STAR). Beginning in 2005, STAR has followed over 30,000 people who were first enumerated in 2004 (pre-tsunami) in 487 communities (community location depicted in the figure below), as part of a population-representative household survey conducted by Statistics Indonesia. Interviews were conducted annually for 5 years after the tsunami; the ten-year follow-up is currently in the field. We ascertained survival status for 98% of the original pre-tsunami respondents and have interviewed 96% of survivors. The study is designed to provide information on the short-term costs and longer-term recovery for people in very badly damaged communities and in comparison communities where the disaster had little direct impact.
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.