Natural disasters are a devastating, but undeniably inevitable part of life and society. Because of this fact, many of us tend to believe that they happen as an act of nature, purely out of the human control. We need to start realizing that this is far from the truth and it this attitude that is stopping us from learning from our mistakes. The contemporary world inaccurately labels various disasters as ‘natural’ when in fact, when looked at more closely; there is an enormous correlation between ‘nature’ and ‘society’.
There are many flaws in the human preparation for natural disasters that have equated in death and injury where it could have been minimized. Although the occurrence of a disaster can happen at any time, it is vital that we start recognizing that there is much that we can do reduce the effects that they have on us as well as taking ownership to the fact that there have been many changes that we have made to the environment in the past and present to aggravate ‘natural’ disasters and allow them to impact on us with much more severity then they would of otherwise.
A natural disaster can be defined as a phenomenon that results in material and/or environmental loss where the affected community would not be able to restore themselves without external support (The Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services, 2002). The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that affected Japan and the Indian Ocean earthquake affecting Southern Asia are both primary examples of natural disasters. Although these two events were completely unrelated to each-other, the economic and environmental impact that they had on their effected regions were very much similar. These included widespread death and injuries, building and infrastructure losses, major economic downfall and socio-economic loss.
The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan at 14:46 local time on 11th of March, 2011. It was a magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale (Shibahara, 2011), making it one of the most powerful earthquakes the world has ever seen. It lasted a total of 8 minutes and the violent earthquake later triggered a tsunami, which travelled up to 10 kilometres inland into the Sendai area (Norio, 2011). The short-term effects of the earthquake and tsunami included: death and injuries, destruction of property and infrastructure including roads and all forms of transport systems, financial and economic downfall due to rebuilding, clean-up projects, and the falling of stocks.
The event occurred where the pacific plates dip underneath the plate beneath northern Honshu. This is known as convergent boundaries; where one tectonic plate moves under the other, sinking into the Earth’s mantle as the plates meet. Where more traditional earthquakes are caused by friction of two plates moving in opposite directions, in this instant The Pacific Plate moved underneath Honshu’s plate, releasing large amounts of energy (N.A, 2005). The break caused the sea floor to rise by several metres. This underwater megathrust earthquake is the most rare and destructive type, hence producing the massive Richter scale reading.
The tsunami that followed the earthquake was triggered by the destructive waves up of to 77 feet and engulfed the coast of Japan minutes after the quake. Some of the more powerful waves travelled up to 6 miles inland, causing damage that almost match that of the earthquake, even though limited to the coastal region. In addition to these events, the disasters also caused major disruption to the nearby nuclear power plants that put Japan in a the midst of a humanitarian crisis unseen in the history of modern Japan (Duan, 2012).
Japan often experience’s natural disasters due to their geological placement and hence have developed earthquake and disaster procedures that are one of the most advanced in the world (Sheth & Sanyai & Jaiswai & Gandhi, 2008). However, the series of disasters were simply too high in magnitude for Japan to be prepared for. The earthquake was above what they had predicted and the tsunami had not been factored in. Despite the unprecedented scale of the earthquake alone, many buildings infrastructures remained standing, proving Japan’s construction law’s, resilience and earthquake technology. This shows that if the earthquake was the only disaster that Japan had to deal with, they would have been able to cope with it far more successfully and the tsunami was the reason for the country’s failure (Zare & Afrouz, 2012).
They were left in a situation where they were facing several difficulties: The application of a response, the management of a large number of residents that had been displaced by the disaster, and lack of experience in the management of medical resources for displaced populations. In addition to this, the people of Tohoku were only notified of the event one minute before the occurrance, leaving residents in a state of shock and unpreparedness (Norio, 2011).
However, despite the devastating elements that the Japanese people were exposed to, they still managed to remain somewhat calm and dealt with the situation at hand with discipline. The public had confidence in officials that were part of relief teams and lined up in a civilized manner for food and drink, as opposed to demonstrating chaotic behavior, which would be very common in similar situations, especially in rural or developing countries. This would be a prime example of successfully educating the public on crisis behavior, especially in regions that are prone to disaster.
The 2004 Tsunami, or otherwise known as the 2004 Indiana Ocean tsunami and earthquake is considered as the 6th deadliest earthquake/tsunami and the 2nd most destructive earthquake in the world (Wang & Liu, 2008). During the quakes strongest point, it lasted a total of 8-10 minutes and caused a lasting rise in the global sea level of 0.1mm. Its destructive power also resulted in the inactive volcano situated in Indonesia to become active once again.
The disaster affected a total of 15 countries, including: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia, Malaysia, South Africa, Madagascar and Kenya; with Indonesia suffering the most damage. The disaster measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, the same reading as the Tohoku event, this reading was measured in Sumatra, Indonesia and buildings were shaking in Bangkok as well as Singapore which were both more than 600 miles away.
Similar to the Tokohu earthquake, the cause of the Indiana Ocean earthquake/ tsunami was also due to the sliding of tectonic plates, in this case the India plate underneath the Burma plate. Even though the process has been on-going for many years, it was the 26th of December 2004 when the process resulted in a rupture more then 1000 kilometers long and shifting the ground above the rupture by approximately 10 meters horizontally and a number of meters vertically. This event caused the entire planet to shake and witness the largest magnitude earthquake in 40 years.
Primary effects of the tsunami include major loss of life: 227000 people confirmed dead and 1.8 million people missing. More than 80000 houses were damaged or had been destroyed as well as overall severe damage to all infrastructure, roads, bridges and all utilities Secondary effects included the spread of disease due to contaminated water and the tropical climate (Wang & Liu,2008). Another was major economic downfall due to the loss of coastal fishing industries as well as loss of tourism opportunity due to damage to areas such as Thailand. Emotional and psychological effects on those affected was also a significant factor, as well as the huge number of orphans that were left due to surviving the incident and their parents not being so lucky.
The affected countries were entirely unprepared for the disaster (Athukorala, 2012). However, The Pacific Tsunami Monitoring Centre (PTMC) in Honolulu, Hawaii sent a message stating there was a possibility of a tsunami affecting countries in the Indian Ocean 65 minutes prior to the event. Unfortunately, this message was not passed onto the countries in the affected region, as the PTMC officials did not have required contacts in their address book.
Furthermore, are a very rare incidence in the Indian Ocean and historically tsunami-related calamities had been of minor importance compared to other natural disasters (Abbott, 2011, Ch. 3; Albala-Bertrand 1993, Ch. 2, From Athukorala, 2012 ). It was also reported that “ in many coastal towns and tourists resorts in Sri Lanka, Aceh, India and Thailand, many people watched the prior receding of the coastline with curiosity or took the opportunity to collect stranded fish and thus easily succumbed to the waves (Athukorala, 2012). ”
There is now research that shows a close correlation between the magnitude of the damage caused by the tsunami and the regions unpreparedness and lack of coastal resource management. Evidence shows that the shocking death toll could have been significantly bought down if the region had had more effective natural defenses such as coral forests and mangrove swamps, all of which had been destroyed for urban construction such as ocean facing hotels and villas. By doing so, involved parties have not only broken coastal conservation legislation, but now live with the most serious consequence, loss of life.
There is evidence that the amount of human lives lost was partly a result of modern progress, ruthless destruction of natural defenses such as coral forests and mangrove swamps, and building oceanfront hotels and villas in violation of coastal conservation legislation. For instance, in the areas surrounding Aceh, where the coastal ecosystem remained in good condition the tsunami’s effects were far less severe. Also, the island of Simeuleu in Indonesia experienced a relatively death toll, partially due to the healthy condition of the surrounding mangrove forests. Furthermore, in Sri Lanka the damage was much more brutal as there had been violation of regulation prohibiting mining coral reefs and damaging coastal mangrove forests, which act as a shield against the destruction of the sea (Athukorala, 2012).
Both these events should act as a alarm for leaders all over the world, to revise their methods and procedure for disaster detection and response procedures. It could be an alarm for us to be more thorough and cautious about the earthquake hazard as the prepared and industrialized Japan with the most modernized technology confronted many extensive troubles, which were out of their predictions. We need to analyse the two events and see the connection between ‘nature’ and ‘society’ and understand that the two are interlinked.
Although the occurrence of a natural disaster is out of our control, we are able to make a difference in the brutality of its effects by the choices we make to our surrounding environment, as proven by the regions that were fortunate to shield themselves from the wrath of the tsunami with their mangrove swamps and natural defense systems. Although the economic state of any region is a important factor in a range of decisions, officials need to also consider the environment as a major factor in their decision making when it comes to urban development; as without it, we have nothing.
Courtney from Study Moose
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