Tsunamis: Disaster implications global
Disaster Mitigation, by Chris Chiesa,
Pacific Disaster Center manager
The Pacific Disaster Center on Mau‘i today launched the
Indian Ocean Tsunami Geospatial Information Service to support
emergency managers responding to the tsunami disaster in South
and Southeast Asia.
The new information
service is part of the Center’s Asia Pacific Natural
Hazards Information Network (APHNIN http://apnhin.pdc.org),
a resource for disaster managers to tap into high-quality geospatial
data to reduce disaster risk and vulnerability in the region.
The new service will provide information specific to the tsunami
that has claimed, at last count more than 200,000 lives.
Accurate geospatial information is an absolutely indispensable
resource during disaster response and recovery. This service
will support emergency managers and relief agencies as they respond
to this tragic event.
Specifically, the Indian Ocean Tsunami Geospatial Information
Service will support emergency managers by providing geospatial
information including baseline Landsat imagery, SRTM-derived
shaded relief images, LANDSCAN-derived population density, detailed
coastlines, damage polygons,and high-resolution imagery as it
The Indian Ocean Tsunami Geospatial Information Service can
be accessed by ESRI GIS applications at www.pdc.org.
The Pacific Disaster Center provides applied information research
and analysis for the development of more effective policies,
institutions, programs, and information products for disaster-management
and humanitarian assistance communities of the Asia-Pacific region
Allen Clark, senior research fellow and executive director
of the Pacific Disaster Center, said the Pacific Disaster
takes scientific information and creates a disaster notification
alert to all emergency managers in Hawai‘i and elsewhere. “The
real tragedy of all this is that the system is there, the technology
is there, the capability is there, it just wasn’t in place
in the Indian Ocean when the thing hit.”
Charles E. Morrison, president of the East-West Center, said
the East-West Center and the Pacific Disaster Center “stand
prepared” to do what they can to enhance tsunami warning
systems in the Indian Ocean. Morrison said the two centers may
organize and host an international workshop for South and Southeast
Asian countries to discuss a regional tsunami warning system.
Participants could visit Honolulu tsunami facilities.
Political implications, by Arun Swamy,
East-West Center research fellow and South Asia specialist
Natural disasters are often
a critical test for political systems. Governments can gain or
lose legitimacy, nations can win-over or lose minorities by how
they respond to these disasters and, more importantly, how they
are perceived to respond to them. The tsunamis that hit Asia
on Dec. 26 will therefore likely have lasting political consequences.
The most important of these, obviously, will concern the future
trajectory of the two longest-running separatist conflicts
in Asia — Aceh and Sri Lanka — which are by a strange
coincidence the two regions worst affected by the tsunamis.
Early indications suggest that the political consequences will
be very different in these two regions. Indonesia’s Aceh
province, where government and rebels have declared a ceasefire
to allow relief organizations to come in, may well experience
a long-term reconciliation.
By contrast, Sri Lanka, where rebel-held territory has apparently
not received the benefit of relief supplies, and where both
sides are accusing each other for the failing, the early indication
is that the tsunami will aggravate the world’s most bitter
However, the Sri Lankan situation is a little more complicated
than it appears. Unlike the Aceh rebels, the Tamil Tigers control
territory and act as a government in these areas. The failure
to assure adequate relief could end up costing the Tigers political
In India, Thailand and Malaysia, governments appear to be responding
adequately and even heroically and should build a reservoir
of goodwill and national solidarity. The newly elected coalition
government in India, and the beleaguered government of Thaksin
in Thailand, will likely reap some short-term benefits. In
the largest and most diverse of the affected countries, the
tragedy has elicited an outpouring of private contributions
and labor from all regions that is a testament to the country’s
efforts at creating a common sense of nationhood.
Finally, the tragedy could end up promoting a spirit of solidarity
and cooperation in the region as a whole. There is new talk
of establishing an early warning system for this kind of
eventuality in the future. More visibly, the tragedy has
thrust one country,
India, into an unfamiliar regional role as its medical and
personnel are called upon to carry out relief efforts in
neighboring countries as well as at home. Perhaps one day,
in responding to regional disasters will provide South and
Asia the seeds of regional integration that in Europe were
provided by the coal and steel community.
Health implications, by
Sumner La Croix, EWC senior fellow in economics
A typical regional disaster
in Asia, say a typhoon, often comes with sufficient warning for
individuals to secure some property and, most importantly, to
take precautions to prevent death and injury among family, friends,
and employees. Because the South Asian tsunami disaster hit the
region with virtually no warning to residents, the loss of life
and property has been extraordinary. The large number of deaths
in Aceh, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and the Maldives will complicate
rebuilding efforts, as the owners of damaged properties may no
longer be alive, individual records have surely been lost in
the flooding, and some families may be preoccupied with personal
tragedies rather than immediate rebuilding.
Rebuilding along affected coastlines is likely to proceed relatively
quickly, as individuals conclude that such destructive tsunamis
occur extremely infrequently and that countries in the region
will act quickly to put a regional tsunami warning system in
place. Most rebuilding will replicate what was previously in
place: vacationers want hotels by the beach; stores locate
near the beach to provide goods and services; roads go through
towns. In some areas, such as hilly areas on the Sri Lankan
coast, it would be quite expensive to relocate roads and
On the other hand, it would certainly be worthwhile for national
and local governments to consider whether vital public works,
e.g. wells used for drinking water and power stations, could
be relocated to less vulnerable locations.
The damage done in India, Thailand, and Indonesia, is severe,
yet affects a very small portion of very large countries. In
all three cases, resources will have to be diverted from other
uses to reconstruction.
While the incomes of regional economies along the East India
coast, along Thailand’s southwest coast, and in Indonesia’s
extremely hard-hit Aceh province, will be markedly lower and
accompanied by enormous individual losses in 2005, they constitute
only a small part of their respective national economies. (By
analogy, one could consider how the four hurricanes that hit
the U.S. Southeast during summer-fall 2004 only slightly reduced
U.S. growth rates.) In all three countries, national income is
still likely to experience strong growth — 3 percent to
7 percent — albeit perhaps .5-1 percent lower than otherwise.
The situation for Sri Lanka and the Maldives is, however,
much more extreme, as a much larger proportion of the national
has been affected by the disaster. These countries face the
prospect of a severe recession or even depression unless
and international aid proceed quickly.
by Jefferson Fox, EWC senior fellow in environment
It is too early to assess
the environmental impacts of the recent tsunami that hit the
coasts of Sumatra, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. It is immediately
evident, however, that the tsunami will also kill coral reefs
throughout the region. In Bangkok, the English-language newspaper
Nation quoted Thai marine scientist, Thon Thamrongnawasawasdi
of Bangkok’s Kasetsart University, as saying “The
impact is irreversible. We will never get back the past richness.
They will never be the same again.”
In addition to the damage caused directly to the reefs by wave
action, the sand stirred by the crashing waves cuts off sunlight
to the coral. Professor Thon said, “Without the sunlight
for photosynthesis, the coral would die. It takes 11 years for
coral to show the first sign of recovery.” Without the
coral, the marine life that depends on it will also vanish.
Among the areas hit worst by the waves are the low-lying islands
Andaman and Nicobar. These islands, already vulnerable to sea-level
rise tied to global warming, were swamped by the tsunami. One
of the first environmental risks for these islands is to fresh
water. Salt water will poison reservoirs of rainwater.
Seafood farms in countries such as Thailand would also have
been damaged, and mangrove areas that act as nursery habitats
and shrimp will have been churned over pretty thoroughly. The
damage to mangroves has not yet been reported but could be
severe. In India, the damage to thousands of mechanized boats
craft in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh has been reported to
affect the fishing industry, especially export of shrimps and
Other secondary damage can result from sewage and chemical
pollution following the destruction caused by a tsunami. Damage
discharge, and storage facilities also can present dangerous
Fires resulting from oil spills or combustion from damaged
ships in port, or from ruptured coastal oil storage and refinery
can cause damage greater than that inflicted directly by the
tsunami. This does not appear to have occurred this time. Reports
from India suggest that its oil and gas operations in offshore
Andhra Pradesh were not affected by the tsunami. In a press
statement, officials from Cairn Energy reported “Our offshore operations
in Andra Pradesh Eastern India and in the Bay of Bengal off Bangladesh
are working as normal.” Cairn Energy is exploring for oil
and gas in the Krishna Godavari deep sea, off the Andhra coast,
and is the operator of the Ravva oil and gas fields, which produces
54,000 barrels of crude oil every day. “There was no damage
or impact to the Ravva field which Cairn operates off the Andra
Pradesh coastline,” it said. The Sangu gas field and
ongoing drilling operations in the Bay of Bengal are also working
by Nancy Lewis, EWC research director
The series of earthquakes
with epicenters off of Aceh (Northern Sumatra) and the resultant
tsunamis have had a devastating impact on Southeast Asia, South
Asia, islands in the Indian Ocean, and as far away as the East
coast of Africa. More than 100,000 have died and the death toll
is still mounting. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands,
have been injured. In addition, critical infrastructure, including
hospitals and health centers, has been destroyed and millions
have lost their homes,possessions, and livelihoods. The U.N.
warned that this could prove to be the worst natural disaster
in modern times.
The longer term impacts may, however, be greater than the tsunamis.
Specifically with respect to health, contaminated water, lack
of sanitation, crowded resettlement camps, lack of adequate
food, shortages of medical supplies and personnel, and stagnant
that encourages the breeding of insect vectors that transmit
diseases, such as dengue and malaria, could magnify the impact
of the Dec. 26 event. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.
For the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune
systems, there can be a synergism between malnutrition and
infection. Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, has
in news reports as saying “Standing water is as deadly
as moving water.”
The greatest needs are for safe water, sanitation, food, health
and medical personnel, and supplies. Contaminated water will
rapidly lead to outbreaks of water-borne diseases that cause
diarrhea and dysentery. Cholera, a waterborne disease often
found in coastal areas, is a serious threat. Poor sanitation
nutrition compound the situation. Stagnant water increases
the likelihood of mosquito and other vector breeding, increasing
the potential for the transmission of malaria and dengue, two
endemic infections in the region, as well as other vector-borne
disease. Another ecologically complex disease, leptospirosis,
is endemic in the region and increases are seen after flooding.
There were several cases in October on the University of Hawai‘i
campus after a flash flood. The crowding in resettlement camps
increases the likelihood of both water-borne and vector-borne
disease, as well as sets up conditions for the transmission
of acute respiratory infections that can be fatal. In addition
the lack of adequate sanitation and toilet facilities, the
lack of adequate water for hand washing and bathing increases
potential for disease transmission.
The World Health Organization, the International Red Cross,
a number of U.N. agencies, international NGOs, foreign governments,
and others are responding to the critical needs. The East-West
Center is the managing partner of the Hawai‘i-based Pacific
Disaster Center, and that organization is providing information
support to a number of agencies, including the U.S. Federal Emergency
Management Agency, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance,
and the U.S. Pacific Command. We will not know the full impact
of the devastating event for months and years. All the nations
affected were experiencing development challenges before Dec.
26. That the tsunamis impacted heavily populated poor coastal
areas as well as tourist resorts—important economic engines
for these economies—will undoubtedly magnify the impact.
U.S. - Muslim Relations,
by Richard W. Baker, EWC Indonesia specialist and 20-year veteran
U.S. Foreign Service officer
HONOLULU (Jan. 10)–As
has been noted in a number of news reports and commentaries,
the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami off Sumatra provides an opportunity
for the United States to improve its badly battered reputation
in the Islamic world, especially in Southeast Asia. Perhaps
the most striking image in this regard was the initial arrivals
helicopter-borne U.S. troops on Indonesian soil, where they
were welcomed literally as lifesavers by the fervently Islamic
This picture alone shows the power of a sincere response to
genuine disaster to enable peoples to put differences aside.
Thus it is quite correct to see the possibility that the American
response to the disaster—from civilian society as well
as from the government—could lead to an improvement or
at least a mitigation of attitudes toward the United States
on the part of the Muslim community in Indonesia (and elsewhere).
However, this response also needs to be handled carefully and
sensitively. The tsunami response is not and should not be
in the United States or the region, as some sort of public
The fact is that the virtually spontaneous reaction to the
tragedy reflects humanitarianism and generosity of spirit,
American life and society that are well established and have
been long recognized, but which have tended to be obscured
recently by the high-decibel international (and American) controversy
over the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.
There can be no doubt that the Iraq issue, which has heightened
attention to and concern over American policy in the Middle
East generally and U.S.-Israel relations specifically, has
eroded confidence in the United States throughout the Muslim
world. What the U.S. response to the tsunami can do is to
throw light on these broader and more fundamental American
of charity and concern for the suffering of others. This
can be a step toward rebalancing international understanding
attitudes about the United States and its global role.
The keys here are sincerity and follow through. A sustained
American response to the tsunami, with initial steps followed
up by long-term
commitments, would provide the most eloquent demonstration
of the good will of American society and the Bush administration.
Any organized effort to extract short-term mileage from
would only sully its spirit and detract from the true intention
and sentiment involved. The effort should speak for itself.
Self-congratulation and exploitation would as easily backfire
as reinforce the positive
and lasting impact.
Richard W. Baker can be reached at (808) 944-7371 or email@example.com.