Duke Rebuilding from Ruins: Tsunami Paper

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					Impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: An Interdisciplinary Look
Cristian Liu Arjun Madan-Mohan Lee Pearson Felix Yap Professor David Schaad Public Policy 196.11 Natural Catastrophes: Rebuilding from Ruins April 25, 2005

“Atlantis…was an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia, and when afterwards sunk by an earthquake, became an impassable barrier of mud to voyagers sailing from hence to any part of the ocean.” –Plato’s Critias “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” –Exodus 14:21 “So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.” –Exodus 14:27


Table of Contents
Table of Contents .....................................................................................................................3 I. What Are Tsunamis? ...................................................................................................5 II. Causes of Tsunamis .....................................................................................................7 III. Control of Response...................................................................................................12 IV. Medical Response ......................................................................................................13 V. Medico-legal Implications .........................................................................................17 VI. Charity and International Aid ....................................................................................19 VII. The Recovery Phase of Natural Disasters ................................................................22 VIII. Mental Health Recovery ............................................................................................27 IX. Health Care Systems Recovery .................................................................................30 X. Economic Recovery ...................................................................................................35 XI. Rebuilding for the Future: Tsunami Prediction and Warning Systems ..................38


I. What Are Tsunamis?
What is a tsunami? The word tsunami is Japanese in origin: literally, it means “harbor wave”. Geologists define tsunamis as a giant wave generated by any disturbance that displaces a volume of water on a very large scale. Tsunamis should not be confused with tidal waves, which are caused by the rising and falling of the ocean’s surface due to the changing gravitational fields exerted by the Moon and the Sun. Despite the drastic difference between the two, these terms have been used interchangeably on numerous occasions, likely due to the lack of visual connotation in the term tsunami or the fact that tsunami sounds too foreign to Westerners. 1 Tsunamis also should not be confused with wind waves, which are generated by wind dragging or disturbing the sea surface. When you blow over the surface of a liquid in a teacup, small wind waves are created; in comparison, if you shake the teacup, larger waves are generated that reverberate back and forth in the teacup. Tsunamis are generated in a similar manner, by the violent deformation of the water column. Another key difference between wind waves and tsunamis lie in their period (the time it takes successive peaks to pass a fixed point) and wavelength (horizontal distance between crests or peaks). Whereas wind waves usually have wavelengths of between 0.02 to 130 meters and periods of 0.2 to 30 seconds, tsunamis have wavelengths hundreds of kilometers long and periods ranging from 10 minutes to over an hour. In addition, even though tsunamis are sometimes mistook for being towering waves, tsunami waves race across the ocean as a series of long, low-crested waves usually with amplitudes less than 1 to 2 meters tall and are virtually imperceptible to the human eye until they reach the

Prager, et al. Furious Earth: The Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), 170-171.


coast. This means that a person on a ship out at sea may not even notice a tsunami that passes underneath the hull. Moreover, the fact that tsunamis have wavelengths that are about a thousand times longer than those of wind waves and periods that are “only” 50 times longer means that tsunamis travel about 200 times faster than wind waves, as shown below by the given formula 2:

velocity  v 



wavelength period

The speed of a wave at sea can also depend on the water depth: the shallower the body of water a wave is traveling through, the slower it travels. This relationship is given mathematically by the following formula:

v  gh
where g is the acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s²) and h is the water depth3. For a typical ocean depth of 4,000 meters, for example, a tsunami travels at a speed of nearly 200 meters per second or 700 kilometers per hour–the speed of a jet plane. And when tsunamis enter shallower water at a depth of 30 meters for example, they slow down to a speed of only 59 kilometers per hour. However, this mathematical formula is still inadequate for predicting how tsunamis will behave by the time they reach the shore, since tsunamis often pass over varying sea floor topographies before striking the shore. Changes in sea floor cause the long, low tsunami waves to continuously change shape 4. For example, whereas the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami affected Indonesia and Sri Lanka the most severely, the country of Bangladesh across the Bay of Bengal to the north suffered relatively minor damage even though it was about the same distance to the
2 3

Ibid., 171-173. Myles. The Great Waves (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), 35-36. 4 Prager, et al. Furious Earth: The Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis, 174-175.


epicenter of the earthquake as Sri Lanka. This can be attributed to the vastly different sea floor topography in the Bay of Bengal: many tall underwater ridges in this body of water served to disrupt the transfer of energy in the tsunami waves and minimize the impact of the tsunami by the time the waves hit Bangladesh. Indonesia and Sri Lanka were dealt the hardest blows from the tsunami, from which 130,736 and 35,222 victims were confirmed to have perished in the waves; in stark contrast, there were only 2 confirmed deaths in Bangladesh5.

II. Causes of Tsunamis
Sources of disturbances that can potentially generate tsunamis include earthquakes, underwater landslides, volcanic eruptions, and cosmic collisions. Earthquakes can occur at three different kinds of faults: strike-slip, thrust, and normal. Strike-slip faults entail horizontal motion of the Earth’s crust, while thrust and normal faults involve vertical motion. When earthquakes occur at underwater thrust and normal faults, water is displaced vertically, hereby triggering wave motion. On the other hand, strike-slip faults do not cause vertical displacement on the sea floor. Most faults in the Earth’s crust are a combination of strike-slip and thrust motions, but it appears that only those faults that generate predominantly vertical motion and create large enough deformations in the sea floor can trigger a tsunami. Earthquake-induced sea-floor deformation is not the only cause of tsunamis. In fact, any form of seismic activity that can generate water displacement on a massive scale is capable of generating tsunamis. Underwater landslides, one of three other causes of tsunamis, are now thought to play a much greater role in tsunami generation than was

UN Office of the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. "The Human Toll." (December 31, 2005), available from; Internet; accessed April 10, 2006.


earlier believed. The reason for this lies in several important differences in the character of tsunamis triggered by landslides and those triggered by earthquakes. Tsunamis generated by earthquakes tend to have longer wavelengths and longer periods than those generated by landslides. Moreover, the size of an earthquake-induced tsunami triggered by an earthquake and the deformation of the sea floor is limited by the magnitude of the earthquake itself; on the other hand, a landslide-induced tsunami can grow much larger as its size is limited only by the amount of vertical motion in the flow of earthen debris. 6 The two other causes for tsunamis are volcanic eruptions and cosmic collisions; like earthquakes and landslides, both of these phenomena can rapidly displace large volumes of water, as energy from falling debris or expansion is transferred to the water into which the debris falls. Although the probabilities of these two events causing a tsunami are relatively less likely compared to the two previously mentioned ones, past history (the Thera and Krakatoa eruptions, see below) and popular movies (1998’s Deep Impact and Amargeddon) constantly remind humanity the ever-imminent possibility that a disastrous tsunami resulting from such cataclysmic events can still occur.

III. Tsunamis in History
Tsunamis are nothing new to history; in fact, a megatsunami three millennia ago was likely responsible for two well-known stories from the ancient world: Atlantis and the Passage of the Red Sea. From approximately 2600 to 1450 B.C., the Minoan civilization thrived on the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea. At that time, the Minoans were one of the most advanced civilizations in the world, engaging in extensive maritime trade with Egypt, Greece, and other Mediterranean civilizations and utilizing a powerful


Prager, et al. Furious Earth: The Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis, 180-184.


fleet to exert the prowess of the Minoans at sea. Their power was most exemplified by the Palace of Knossos in their capital, which is now known for its labyrinthine corridors, beautiful frescoes, and piping systems that provided running water and drainage functions. The Minoans’ power remained unchallenged until about 1600 B.C. when they mysteriously faded from the pages of history. The cause of their demise remained unknown to archaeologists for many centuries. In 1939, Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos hypothesized that a volcanic eruption on Thera, an island located sixty-nine miles north of Crete, was largely responsible for the fall of the Minoan civilization. The eruption on Thera was so explosive that the volcano blew out its underground magma chamber and water rushed to fill the empty void, creating a caldera in the volcano’s place. The resulting disturbances of the surrounding waters was great enough to cause a tsunami up to 150 m high which would have crippled the maritime industry on the island of Crete and led to the decline of the Minoan civilization. This event, many historians argue, likely inspired the legend of Atlantis which was recounted in the Greek philosopher Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias; the Atlanteans, like the Minoans, were part of a very advanced culture in their time that was destroyed by a natural disaster. The Thera eruption was also likely the source of inspiration for Moses’ Passage of the Red Sea as described in Exodus of the Bible: the parting of the Red Sea that allowed Moses to lead the Hebrews across and the return of sea to its normal course that drowned the pursuing Egyptian army have been attributed by historians to the behavior of the sea along the shore immediately before and after a tsunami strikes. 7


Myles. The Great Waves, 157-158.


The Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was equally as monumental as the Thera eruption in terms of its explosiveness. Like Thera, much of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa was blown away by one of the most violent explosions known to man. 8 The subsequent mixing of sea water with magma created a very high steam pressure inside the subterranean magma chamber of the volcano, leading to the rapid expansion of steam and the water bursting out again to form tsunami waves that reverberated throughout the globe. These waves were so extensive that they were even detected as far as the English Channel.9 As destructive and explosive the tsunami waves resulting from the Thera and Krakatoa volcanic eruptions were, their impacts on the world were much lower due to the relatively lower population densities along the coasts of the affected areas at that time. These past tsunamis pale in comparison to the recent Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 which claimed a total of more than 283,000 victims in numerous countries in Southeast Asia and even East Africa, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Madagascar, Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania. The Boxing Day tsunami, as the Australians and British also call it, was generated by the SumatraAndaman Earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The earthquake measured 9.3 on the Richter scale, making it the largest earthquake in 40 years. It occurred along the subduction zone where the India Plate dives (subducts) under the Burma plate. (See Figure 1) The strike-slip fault between the two tectonic plates ruptured along an astounding 1,600-km stretch of the fault boundary. As mentioned before, strike-slip faults rarely cause tsunamis, but the magnitude of the

8 9

Ibid., 27-31. Ibid., 166-168.


sudden displacement in the Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake was considerably greater than the usual rate of 50 mm per year at which the fault boundary usually moves. In addition, the rupture also happened for a longer-than-usual duration: whereas moderate-sized earthquakes normally last a few seconds, the Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake lasted between 500 to 600 seconds. These extraordinary characteristics of the Sumatra earthquake, combined with the high population density of the areas affected, subsequently led to the immensely high death toll compared to past tsunamis in history 10.

Figure 1: Regional map showing earthquakes with magnitudes >5.0 from 1965 to 25 December 2004 from the earthquake catalog of the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC). Green stars show the epicenters of the two recent great events; the green diamond shows the CMT centroid location for the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman event. The thick red arrows indicate the relative plate motions between the Indo-Australian and Eurasian plates. (Lay, Kanamori et al. 2005)


Lay, et al. "The Great Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake of 26 December 2004." Science. 308(5725) (2005).



Control of Response
The first and probably most important step in implementing a large scale response

plan is to create a hierarchy of control. This allows a recovery effort to be more unified. With a disaster as large as the tsunami in Asia, many people are willing to help and even more supplies are made available. While these resources will definitely help to easy the suffering of the local populations, it is the efficiency of the proper allocation of these resources that will determine how effective they can be. Many countries have a pre-set disaster recovery program available in order to ensure efficiency in a time of need. For example the United States currently has an Incident Command System. This program is not only federally funded but has become required by Occupational Safety and Health Act11. Groups such as the Incident Command System serve a second purpose as well: ensuring accountability. Professor Herbert Kitschelt of Duke University has claimed that accountability, in some political cases, can be more important that technical skill. 12 This is because a command center set up to conduct a response knows all of its responsibilities. It also realizes that the rest of the world is watching to verify that it is doing the best job that it can. While in an ideal world response teams will give it their all when lives are in jeopardy, this extra insurance can’t hurt. In Thailand, one of the countries struck by the tsunami, the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) worked in coordination with the American CDC to set up a system of control. This joint effort, named Thai MOPH-U.S. CDC Collaboration (TUC), set up 6 different command centers throughout the different provinces, as well one central

11 12

Woods. Acute Disease Surveillance and Outbreak Investigation. Kitschelt. Political Management of Disasters. Ibid.


command center located in the country’s capital, Bangkok. All of the command centers were established on the day of the Tsunami. These command centers took immediate action as they deployed emergency medical care teams as well as technical support, health education, mental health care, active surveillance, and massage therapist teams 13.

V. Medical Response
The first medical team arrived in Bangkok within 6 hours of the disaster. This aspect to the relief was probably the most pressing. Thousands of people across Asia had been wounded in the disaster with many of the injuries life-threatening. By January 9, a mere two weeks after the incident 1,254 patients had undergone major surgical procedures in Thailand. 398 patients were still in intensive care while 9,798 patients had received outpatient services14. And these numbers only account for the medical services provided by hospitals and established medical camps. Many victims were injured so badly that they were unable to reach a hospital, and on occasion the lines at hospitals were so long that patients would have to wait hours for care. To account for theses situations it is important to provide medical services to those who were unable to reach a proper treatment facility. In many countries mobile medical teams were made available. These teams would travel through the devastated areas looking for victims to help. By January 9 it was approximated that over 80,000 people had received some sort of treatment from a mobile medical team in Thailand 15. These statistics show how important and necessary medical treatment can be.


"Rapid Health Response, Assessment, and Surveillance After a Tsunami--Thailand, 2004-2005." Journal of the American Medical Association. 293(9) (2005). 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid.


On January 1, 2005, a Korean medical team led by Dr. Jie Hyang Lim arrived in Sri Lanka with the goal of analyzing the medical situation in the medical refugee camps. They moved from camp-to-camp treating patients while collecting various data. They wanted to take note of the types of cases that were coming to the medical centers as well as the typical gender and age of the patients in order to improve emergency response in the future16. The team treated 3,162 patients in a 6 day span, at which point they were relieved by a second Korean medical team. The second team treated 1,548 patients over the next three days. Their data was very revealing of the actual situation in Sri Lanka. They found that 29.2% of their patients had come because of trauma-related illnesses, 33.8% for chronic problems, and 27.8% were treated for acute respiratory problems. Dr. Lim then took his data and broke up the types of diseases by day. A table with the relevant data can be seen below. It shows that the relative proportions of the types of diseases stayed the same over the few weeks immediately following the tsunami.

Figure 2: Medical problems by days from tsunami disaster (Lim, Yoon et al. 2005)


Lim, et al. "Medical needs of tsunami disaster refugee camps." Family Medicine. 37(6) (2005).


The high proportion of chronic problems was cause for worry. These are patients with prior maladies such as diabetes or asthma. However, the tsunami destroyed some aspect of their care. It could have been medication, medical equipment, a health facility, or even simply a reduction in the availability of knowledgeable healthcare providers 17. A taxing relief effort throughout the country generally makes it harder to take care of chronic medical problems. The only way to improve treatment for these patients would be to have a prior stockpile of medication and equipment. This stockpile should not necessarily be limited to items that will be used to treat direct injuries from the disaster, but should also include medical items that are commonly needed in that region. While acute respiratory problems were the lowest of the three categories measured by Lim it is still very significant. First, the 27.8% rate is much higher than during a time of no natural disaster, and secondly a respiratory problem can be immediately threatening to a patient. After noticing this trend, Lim’s first response was to make sure that there was no communicable illness harboring itself in the camps. While this was not the case in Sri Lanka, it does have the potential to be very dangerous as patients would come to the camp to get treatment, but might leave with a respiratory disease. This disease combined with whatever the patient originally had could be fatal. Since Lim found no signs of a communicable respiratory problem in Sri Lanka he attributed the majority of the illnesses to the dusty crowded environments of the refugee camps. This finding is important since it means that better camp conditions can lead to a healthier atmosphere. Fewer respiratory problems would mean that available medical resources could be spent on other injuries, easing the strain on an emergency response.




Lim then took his data for trauma and broke it down to skin trauma vs. all other trauma. The following graph depicts his findings.

Figure 3: Pattern of trauma, by days after tsunami disaster (Lim, Yoon et al. 2005)

On day 6 after the tsunami skin trauma was at a high at 65.5%. However, by day 16 it had decreased to 30.7%. The initially high level of skin trauma shows that a large percentage of the population was physically injured by the tsunami itself. Since this was the case, one would expect the level of skin trauma to decrease as time passes, as it did. However, what is significant in Lim’s findings is that by the second week, skin trauma levels started to plateau around 30%, much higher than during a time of no disaster. One reason for this is that many of the relief workers were getting injured as well. As efforts were taken to clean damaged building and rescue missing victims many people received minor skin abrasions and injuries. This finding suggests that medical response teams need to maintain a high level of skin trauma equipment with the foresight that many people will be injured during the rescue and recovery process of a disaster.



Medico-legal Implications
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Sri

Lanka was quoted as saying the following; “The identification of dead bodies is one of the most basic of all human rights. Due to the [tsunami], many bodies were buried without identification. It is absolutely essential that forensic expertise is marshaled to identify all dead bodies so that their next of kin may be informed. The government must make this an important matter or priority.” There are several reasons why it is important to identify the dead. First, and probably the most important, is to have the ability to notify the next of kin. Families almost always want to know what happened to their loved ones and will spend immeasurable effort trying to find out. Secondly, keeping track of the deceased and the cause of death paints a better picture of the disaster. This information can be used to determine the severity of a disaster and exactly how much relief is needed. Thirdly, in the long term, it is essential for a civilization to keep track of who has passed away and who is still alive as this can have many implications for property ownership and legal contracts. Due to large number of disasters Sri Lanka has faced in the past, the country has developed one of the best medico-legal systems out of the countries affected by the tsunami. In fact, Sri Lanka has almost as many full-time forensic pathologists as there are in Australia. However, the sheer size of this disaster overwhelmed even the Sri Lankan system. Under the system in place prior to the disaster, death investigation was conducted by an official Investigator into Sudden Death. While this system is important for


everyday life, Sri Lanka lacked official rules and regulations pertaining to the identification or disposal of deceased during a time of disaster 18. Immediately after the tsunami struck, correct procedure was followed as bodies were sent to local hospitals and morgues. However, within hours all of the space and labor was occupied. By the next day, bodies were being sent straight to burial sites. Typically, in times of disaster, the police are given the authority to disperse of bodies as this allows for quicker action. However, it must be done with care. In the wake of the tsunami, the police were often skipped as burials were conducted rapidly. And in many cases, when the police were involved, they had contradicting reports as to the number of deceased19. One of the implications of a chaotic burial process is that the identities of many of those victims will never be known. In many instances exhumations were necessary in order to try and find a specific person. This was the case with many foreign victims. Between the months of January and March several foreign governments required Sri Lanka to perform exhumations in efforts to identify their missing citizens20. However, the possible locations of the bodies were often unknown causing extra, and often futile, work. Most government officials were hesitant to identify victims immediately due to lack of vital information. Many luxuries such as DNA testing or confirming dental records could not easily be obtained in the Third World, especially during a disaster. Another reason for this seemingly lackluster effort was the onset of fatigue from the sheer amount of work. While enthusiasm for public service was at a high immediately


Perera. "After the tsunami: legal implications of mass burials of unidentified victims in Sri Lanka." Public Library of Science Medicine. 2(6) (2005). 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid.


following the disaster it began to wane as workers fatigued. Temperatures reaching as high as 95˚ Fahrenheit in the weeks following the disaster sped up the decomposition of bodies. This rightfully caused workers to increase the speed of their burial process. While burial efforts grew more and more careless, bodies continued to come in. The tsunami washed countless bodies into the ocean and left even more behind hidden under rubble. Over six months after the disaster bodies continued to be found 21. However, even with all of these factors working against them, countries could still have taken efforts to bury bodies more methodically. The identified and unidentified could have been separated. Also a permanent identification tag and a corresponding photograph of the body could have prevented many exhumations by making it easier to search through pictures rather than to unbury numerous bodies 22. This would also have helped to keep track to the total body count. While having extra labor and morgue space just in the event of a disaster may be inefficient, smaller more feasible preparations such as having sufficient cameras and film on hand as well as pre planned burial sites can prove to be very beneficial.

VII. Charity and International Aid
One of the most important aspects of a response is international aid. Typically, a disaster as powerful as a tsunami can damage much of a country’s infrastructure. Hospitals, evacuation routes, and construction equipment may be damaged or rendered unusable. Combining this with the fact that a tsunami can affect such a large portion of a country makes it even more unlikely that the country can take care of itself, especially if the targeted country is Third World or has significant poverty. This was the case in the
21 22

Ibid. Ibid.


2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The affected countries could not provide the necessary resources to mount a response and had to turn to the rest of the world for aid. One of the most important forms of international aid is food. Immediately after a disaster, thousands if not millions of people are displaced and out of a job. The country’s economy in the affected region almost reaches a standstill as all efforts are directed towards a disaster response. Finding food for these people becomes a pressing, life or death issue. The United Nations realized the importance of providing food relief and in early January launched a 6-month emergency food operation. The effort by the UN World Food Program (WFP) cost approximately $256 million and by early April was feeding about 1.75 million people in the tsunami affected regions 23. As the previous example shows, international relief can be crucial to both immediate and long term survival of a disaster ridden area. Fortunately, the world was generous during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. At one point, over $6 billion had been pledged in aid24. However, the problem with this figure is that most pledges are not binding. This is an issue in many natural disasters responses. Governments and private donors often pledge money on a whim, but after some time and serious thought go back on their offer. For example by April, the Sri Lankan government reported over $2 billion in pledges. However, they had only received $750 million at the time. To ameliorate this problem the United Nations kept track of the total binding pledges towards the tsunami relief. By June 8th, 2005 over $2.85 billion in binding pledges had been offered or already contributed in relief. 34% of this came from private donors 25. While this is a staggering

23 24

Inderfurth, et al. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: 6 month Report. Ibid. 25 Ibid.


amount, it is not enough to cover all of the relief costs. Below is a graph of the estimated need vs. relief obtained for several countries.

Figure 4: Commitments/estimated reconstruction costs, March 2005 (Inderfurth, Fabrycky et al. 2005)

While more aid is needed still needed and can be very beneficial to the long term recovery of a country, there are some issues to keep in mind while choosing to provide relief. In an article entitled “Zero-Sum Charity”, Daniel Gross outlines some reasons why charity relief to a highly publicized disaster may actually hurt certain people. Zero-Sum Charity is the notion that people as a whole have a fixed charitable giving every year. All that changes is where the money goes. One example of this was immediately after 9/11. Between 9/11 and the end of the year over $1.88 billion was raised in relief. However, even with all of this aid total charitable giving for 2001, after taking inflation into account, had fallen by 2.3%26. There are several reasons for this including a collapsed economy after 9/11, but one of the reasons could possibly be Zero-Sum Charity. Thus if everyone funds the tsunami relief, then other smaller local charities may find a shortfall in funding. In fact, this was seen both in the wake of 9/11 and the 2004 tsunami. The United Nations reported that their funding levels for relief efforts in the first quarter of 2005 had dropped approximately 25% from its respective 2004 total if they excluded the highly publicized

Gross. "Zero-Sum Charity: Does tsunami relief dry up other giving?" (Jan 20, 2005), available from; Internet; accessed April 10, 2006.


emergencies in Sudan and the tsunami. In fact, they received only 9% of their total other emergency relief requests27. If the Zero-Sum Charity theorem is true it is definitely worth while keeping in mind when providing international relief. Certain disasters such as the tsunami of 2004 cause so much destruction that they require as much funding as possible. However, it is always important to know which disaster is in need of relief funding the most.

VIII. The Recovery Phase of Natural Disasters
After the initial response and cleanup, organizations, countries, and the victims of the disaster have to take what is left and rebuild. The recovery and rebuilding from a natural disaster starts within a month after the disaster strikes and continues for years or even decades longer depending on the magnitude of the disaster and the conditions of the area prior to the disaster. In some places, recovery can take much longer than most would expect. This is exemplified throughout South East Asia in that even 8 months after the disaster from the tsunami of 2004, people are still living in tents and there is still rubble strewn about that has been there since the first day after the water receded. In poverty stricken areas such as these, recovering is a very slow process that is impeded not by lack of human resources or willpower, but a lack of financial resources being allocated to the right individuals and organizations to get the recovery and rebuilding underway.
Figure 5: Banda Aceh coast, 8 months after the tsunami in December 2004. (Duke Engineers Without Borders)


Inderfurth, et al. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: 6 month Report.


However, throwing money at an issue does not always solve the problem and in some cases can make it worse. When one thinks about recovery one may think of recovery in the simple definition of a return to a normal condition28. So after a disaster this implies finding solutions to the current situation and rebuilding from the damages left in the wake of the disaster. It is obvious that these damages do need to be addressed and that rebuilding from ruins is the goal of any recovery effort, but recent investigation into the efficacy of aid in rebuilding from natural disasters and building developing nations in general has produced some contradictory results to this assumption. David Osterfeld, a professor of political science, argues in his work The Failures and Fallacies of Foreign Aid produced by the Foundation for Economic Education that in many cases foreign aid meant to develop countries actually does just the opposite: “Far from stimulating growth and development as was its original intention, foreign “aid” actually retards development and perpetuates, even exacerbates poverty. While reforms might reduce s ome of the damage caused by the program, the real causes for the failure of foreign “aid” lie in the nature of the program 29.” Osterfeld, like others, finds that the money that is given to developing countries in the form of aid often does not result in tangible benefits for the country from all that money. A lot of foreign aid is lost to corrupt administration in the country or to projects that were only thought out in the short term or that had long term implications that were not considered before the project began. These same oversights and consequences can be seen in foreign aid for recovery as well.

28 29

As defined on Osterfeld. "The Failures and Fallacies of Foreign Aid." The Freeman. 40(2) (1990).


Thomas Gebauer, the Executive Director for Medico International in Germany, argues that aid for disaster recovery as it is currently constructed is its own disaster waiting to happen. One of his main points is summarized in the cartoon which precedes his article30:

Figure 6: (Gebauer 2005)

Gebauer finds that the devastation from natural disasters is often met with cultural disasters and recovery that only helps reinforce the systems that caused the disaster to affect a population so severely in the first place. Gebauer writes “If aid is limited to only securing the “bare life”, it will lead to a kind of hardship management. Aid will not change anything anymore, but it will all the more stabilize the precarious status quo in the world today31.” This stabilization of the status quo only serves to make the same populations vulnerable once again to disaster.


Gebauer. "Global aid: stabilizing injustice." (2005, August 2, 2005), available from; Internet; accessed April 10, 2006. 31 Ibid.


After disaster strikes, billions of US dollars are spent for the initial response and recovery from generous donors around the world and developed countries around the world. While this has its own implications for sustainability since these efforts could result in a zero-sum charity, as mentioned before, and other non-profit organizations that do not deal with crisis response suffer, this also creates a dependence on aid throughout the recovery effort. As a result of this dependence, the livelihood of countless victims of any natural disaster becomes dependent on the generosity of others. This has not been a problem in the recent 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which received a huge outpouring of aid, however, when a disaster does not receive the same international attention, the results will be different. As well as if a series of disasters are strung together, donors will become desensitized to the devastation and will be left feeling like they have already contributed to one cause and cannot give to another. Such was the case with Hurricane Stan which caused massive damage in several Latin American countries and particularly hit Guatemala resulting in landslides throughout the mountainous regions of the country. This event in October 2005 occurred just under a year after the Indian Ocean Tsunami and just two months after Hurricane Katrina. Just a week after Stan touched land, in Guatemala alone 1,500 people were dead and 3,000 were missing 32. Yet, due to the event’s close proximity to Hurricane Katrina and in the wake of the tsunami in Asia, the media coverage in the United States of the event was very minimal and the comparative amount of international aid reflected these factors. On October 28, USAID reported that


"Hurricane Stan." (April 22, 2006), available from; Internet; accessed April 10, 2006.


in Guatemala Stan directly affected 474,928 people and damaged or destroyed 34,968 homes. Yet, as of October 28, there were only 296 shelters 33. The issue with foreign aid is a complicated problem because without aid in many instances people will die and countries that are struck by a disaster will suffer greatly due to the lack of resources to recover. So the answer to address the inefficiencies is likely not to eliminate aid altogether, but to rethink the current system with which it is distributed and the way in which the money is intended and used. The United Nations found in 1996 that 70 countries that received aid were poorer now than they were in the 1980s and by other measures, 43 of those 70 were worse off than they were in 1970. USAID, the main funding organization for foreign aid coming from the United States, admits that much of the aid given between the 1960s and 1980s vanished without a trace34. The question becomes how developed nations can come to the aid of others, without simply handing out money and creating dependence and also without forcing solutions on a population that lead to long term problems or rejection by the population. This is a difficult question that cannot be answered in this paper or in any one work. It will vary from population to population and by situation most likely, but the roots of the most effective solution begin with rethinking recovery. Perhaps the best way to approach recovery is to focus the definition of recovery not on simply rebuilding the normal condition, but redefining what this normal condition is and improving upon it. This improvement must be done in an environmentally, culturally, economically, and politically sustainable way which is a difficult task without the benefit of hindsight to see what does and does not work. However, striving for this

"USAID Responds to Flooding in Central America and Mexico." (November 25, 2005), available from; Internet; accessed April 10, 2006. 34 Bandow. "New Excuses for Old Failures." The Freeman. 50(1) (1990).


goal in every aspect of the recovery effort will likely produce more effective and positive long term results. The recovery effort involves many aspects from health, to housing, to economic infrastructure, to the mental health of the victims of the disaster. This paper will now examine a few of these starting with one of the least discussed topics of any disaster: mental health system recovery efforts.


Mental Health Recovery
After a natural disaster of any magnitude it is impossible for people to return to

their normal lives and actions. Immediately following the occurrence of the disaster these impediments are usually physical (i.e. roads are out, infrastructure is gone, jobs are lost) however, concurrent with these immediate problems and also more prevalent in the long term are issues of mental health and the emotions associated with loss. Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) find that approximately 20% of a given population will experience mild or moderate mental disorder soon after a disaster 35. This is double of the baseline that around 10% of a population will be experiencing mild or moderate mental disorder in the year before a disaster. Within a year following the event, without intervention, the level of mild mental disorder will equilibrate at around 15% 36. Severe mental disorders like psychosis or severe depression may increase by as much as 100% from 2% to 4% of the population37. While, these increases may not affect the majority of the population, this need for mental health assistance is often not addressed adequately following a disaster. Adding to this problem, even before disaster strikes,


Lamberg. "As tsunami recovery proceeds, experts ponder lessons for future disasters." Journal of the American Medical Association. 294(8) (2005). 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid.


there is a lack of mental health professionals in many communities in the developing world. A 2003 WHO needs assessment described the resources available for the mentally ill as “totally inadequate to meet the present and emerging mental health needs of the community” 38. While this was said of Sri Lanka specifically, this is generally true in most South East Asian countries affected by the tsunami of December 2004. South Asian countries only have one psychiatrist per 300,000 people on average working in urban areas39. Sri Lanka had 5 psychiatrists working in coastal areas for a population of about 5 million people. These coastal areas were also, for obvious reasons, most affected by the tsunami and the aftermath of the event. These places then needed the largest amount of counseling services, but completely lacked these resources. At the time of the tsunami, Indonesia’s Aceh Province, one of the most heavily affected areas, had 6 psychiatrists working in an area of approximately 4.5 million residents 40. The lack of trained people educated in mental health issues creates a need that many professionals from developed nations try to fill in a time of need. This was the case as recovery efforts throughout Southeast Asia become a priority for those nations, but also for many developed nations around the world that felt the need to aid those affected by the tsunami in any way possible. Many of those professionals that could afford to volunteer their time did, and there was also a certain amount of aid money that was directed to mental health resources. While many of these efforts by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals had good intentions, there are a few key issues that this raises in terms of cost and sustainability.
38 39

Cheng. "Post-tsunami boost to southeast Asia's mental health care." Lancet. 367(9504): 15 (2006). Lamberg. "As tsunami recovery proceeds, experts ponder lessons for future disasters." 40 Ibid.


Dr. Shekhar Saxena a coordinator of mental health research for WHO states that “despite good intentions, effort does not equal assistance 41.” When mental health experts come to a country that has recently experienced a natural disaster they can provide a great deal of support, but also require in turn a great deal of support to maintain the load they create. The workers need transportation, housing, food, and in many cases translators, which creates a huge burden on a community that is receiving and requesting aid for these things as well. The cultural and language barrier that exists between the affected and those who fly in from a world away is also hard to break down in a time of crisis. It is hard for someone to tell their story when the listener cannot understand nor respond in the same language, and the use of a translator to do this work is cumbersome. Saxena asserts that providing financial support for specialists that know the local language and custom would probably be more effective 42. Someone with knowledge of the history of the area and the ability to communicate with the victims can provide more effective and efficient help than a group of foreign professionals. For example, in Sri Lanka the government has been fighting against a group called the Tamil Tigers for nearly 20 years off and on with broken peace treaties. As such the people affected by the tsunami have a series of other strains on their mental health which will impact they way treatment needs to be approached43. It is important to note that much of the counseling that needs to be done in the communities does not take an expert to conduct, but can be trained to local people as well. One effective technique for improving mental health during the rebuilding process is to use the mental health experts to train participants to recognize mental health problems
41 42

Cheng. "Post-tsunami boost to southeast Asia's mental health care." Lamberg. "As tsunami recovery proceeds, experts ponder lessons for future disasters." 43 Cheng. "Post-tsunami boost to southeast Asia's mental health care."


and provide basic counseling 44. These mental health liaisons can be anyone in the community or from inland communities that can provide time to help in the recovery effort. The simplest thing survivors need to know according to Dr. Srinivasa, a health professional with WHO, is that it is “normal to experience sleep disturbances, panic attacks, anger and other emotions after disasters 45”. A simple reassurance that life will be different, but can go on, or having someone to listen to the survivor’s story, is sometimes a great, but unmet, need of a community recovering from a natural disaster. If these needs are left unaddressed, the aftermath of a disaster can create long term changes in survivors’ lifestyle as a result of mental health issues. In Sri Lanka and Aceh, one psychologist working for the Red Cross found that people “don’t believe in life. People don’t save money, they send all their money right away 46.”

X. Health Care Systems Recovery
In the wake of destruction, one of the primary needs for victims is medical response and care. Tragically, health care systems are some of the hardest hit sectors of industry that make recovery difficult. The loss to health care systems comes both in physical resources (losing hospitals, clinics, supplies etc.), but also in human resources as those that can afford to leave the country do so and those that respond first are often put in a great deal of danger which can lead to their own loses. In Banda Aceh approximately 75% of health care workers either died or were displaced form their homes47. As such, those doctors and nurses that are from the community will also be experiencing the same losses as other victims which hamper their ability to aid in recovery efforts. Many studies
44 45

Lamberg. "As tsunami recovery proceeds, experts ponder lessons for future disasters." Ibid. 46 Cheng. "Post-tsunami boost to southeast Asia's mental health care." 47 "Assessment of health-related needs after tsunami and earthquake--three districts, Aceh Province, Indonesia, July-August 2005." MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 55(4) (2006).


have documented the logical result that follows in that many healthcare workers suffer from both physical and psychological burden and “burn out” 48. The result is that often the health care burden must be passed on to local communities that were not affected as significantly by the disaster or to the international community. The physical damage from the tsunami of December 2004 was substantial for many countries’ health care systems. Indonesia lost 30 out of 240 health clinics, with serious damage to another 77 of them, and minor damage to 4049. The Maldives, on some islands, clinics lost all of their equipment such as X-ray machines and power generators. India and Thailand took substantial infrastructure loses as well, which included losing computers and printed files of health records. Thailand however, was better off than most as the health infrastructure further inland was intact and able to take up much of the load from the tsunami 50. The same was true for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka suffered over 17% severe damage to its health care centers, but with the amount of healthcare infrastructure inland, combined with comparatively more personal than other countries, they were able to shift the patient load to inland facilities rather successfully 51. The results of WHO assessments and studies by the CDC seem to suggest that the key to a country’s success during a disaster in terms of sustaining its health infrastructure are dependent upon the country’s current number of health professionals and on the inland health infrastructure52. The health infrastructure pre-tsunami for the countries that were affected by the tsunami is shown in Table 153.

Carballo, et al. "Impact of the Tsunami on healthcare systems." Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 98(9) (2005). 49 "Health-related needs after tsunami." 50 Carballo, et al. "Impact of the Tsunami on healthcare systems." 51 Ibid. 52 "Health-related needs after tsunami." ; Carballo, et al. "Impact of the Tsunami on healthcare systems." 53 "Health-related needs after tsunami."


Table 1: Pre-disaster health and health personnel. (WHO, World Health Statistics 2005–Data on Singapore and Switzerland included for comparative purposes only)

Those countries that did not have as many health professionals per civilians and those that were unable to shift the patient burden to inland facilities, suffered greater loses (dependent on the extent to which they were affected by the tsunami) than other areas that were affected by the tsunami similarly, but had the ability to send victims to inland clinics, and send doctors from inland facilities to disaster areas. The health infrastructure that was in regions that were directly affected by the tsunami was largely devastated and so the impact of the tsunami will be felt for years to come. The World Bank has conducted studies to analyze the economic cost of rebuilding many of these facilities which is summarized in Table 2.54

Table 2: Economic cost of Tsunami on health system. (World Bank, 2005)



With the current funding from the World Bank, many of these nations will have to find alternative sources of money to reconstruct the majority of their healthcare systems. Although, for many nations the current plan will be to reconstruct the health infrastructure where it was previously in these regions, the success of other countries in the ability to shift patient loads to inland facilities seems to suggest that instead of reconstructing, the countries should consider restructuring the layout of the health networks in their countries. No amount of clinics in a tsunami zone will be able to aid in future disasters if they are destroyed during the disaster. In fact, much of the success in the months following the tsunami in preventing disease outbreaks and attending to health related issues was made possible by external sources. The International Centre for Migration and Health found that: “Despite all the efforts made by the national governments of affected countries, it is unlikely that much progress would have been achieved without this rapid influx of external medical and emergency health assistance. Around 130 foreign relief organizations arrived in the region within two weeks of the disaster and set up mobile field hospitals, deployed emergency healthcare staff, procured and distributed medical supplies, and established vaccine and cold-chain systems. The rapid introduction of well-drilling equipment, water desalination plants and other water and sanitation equipment by these external groups was probably one of the key factors that helped avert the epidemic outbreaks that had been predicted 55.” The CDC reports confirm a lot of these results finding that in the months following the disaster 80% of Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar had access to protected sources of drinking water. Although, in poorer rural districts that did not receive as much international




response the percentage was closer to 18% 56. Since water quality and access to water are so fundamentally tied to public health, the CDC concludes as well that the international effort likely prevented the large disease outbreaks that were predicted to come in the months following the tsunami. While international health aid was critical in the recovery phase of the tsunami disaster, it also brought several problems which reinforce the need to rebuild local health infrastructure in protected inland locations rather than setting a policy of depending on foreign aid during disasters. In Sri Lanka, lack of communication with NGOs led to an excess of relief workers which eventually caused the local government to request that groups stop sending staff. In the Maldives, the Ministry of Health found that many of the international relief workers were not technically prepared for the task and had less experience than nationals who had no training in emergency response. International workers also require food and housing, which can be more of a burden. Donations of health related items were often irrelevant or inappropriate as well with countries receiving food that was culturally unacceptable so that it went to waste or expired medicines or excess of a certain item that was no longer needed57. So while foreign aid will be critical in any disaster situation, all these results suggest that first, a fair share of the money should be spent in improving and reinforcing health systems in the country of interest. Secondly, systems and programs should be developed to encourage and provide the means for more individuals in developing countries to become health professionals. Lastly, with improved infrastructure communications between international aid programs and local health coordinators should be enhanced such that aid is relevant and sustainable,

56 57

Ibid. Ibid.


with nationals familiar with their own country and cultures are directing the response and recovery efforts.


Economic Recovery
Coastal communities were devastated by the tsunami mainly in the areas of

fishing, agriculture, and tourism 58. Overall, the total amount of economic devastation, including individual loses is rather small for the whole country, but for individual communities their livelihoods were largely lost to the destruction resulting from the tsunami. These communities that were hardest hit were, for the most part, the same communities that were already suffering economically as well. Most of the affected rural communities were poor and dependent on natural resources as a basis for their economy. As one example, in Sri Lanka 27% of the rural residents were living below the national poverty line before the tsunami hit, and in Aceh 1.2 million people lived in poverty 59. The poverty levels for coastal communities in several countries are shown in Table 3 on the following page60. In such poverty, many depended on the bounty from the ocean as their sole source of income and a major source of subsistence every day. The main effort so far for recovery has been to rebuild the fishing practices of the area, providing more boats and fishing infrastructure so that the villagers can get back up and running. However, even before the tsunami the fishing industry was a disaster in progress.

58 59

Inderfurth, et al. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: 6 month Report. Stobutzki and Hall. Rebuilding Coastal Fisheries Livelihoods after the Tsunami: Key Lessons from Past Experience. 60 Ibid.


Table 3: Fisher statistics and the impact on fisheries in the Asian countries affected by the 26 th December tsunami. (Stobutzki and Hall 2005)

With increasing demands due to an ever increasing population, the fish stocks in the area had been in dramatic decline long before the devastation resulted from the tsunami. (See Figure 7 to the right). The need for economic development does not lay with boosting the current economic activities of the area. These practices are unsustainable both environmentally and economically once the fish populations finally crash and the market falls. As in
Figure 7: The trend in demersal fish biomass on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

many countries and businesses, there is a need to diversify the economic activities to ensure long term safety. This part of the coast is especially susceptible to disaster because the economy is so heavily concentrated in a narrow band of economic activity. Since they depend on fishing as the only source of income, when these stocks are gone, so is the


majority of this sector of the population’s livelihood. One model that experts have developed to frame the development of sustainable economies is the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework which involves balancing livelihood capital assets. This model is used by the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom 61:

Figure 8

The model allows for a constant evaluation of the economic strategy and based on these outcomes calls for analysis to readjust livelihood capital assets to inform policies and processes which in turn improve livelihood. Models such as these and economic developments that consider environmental, social, and cultural factors while looking at long term sustainability are the keys to economic recovery post tsunami and post any disaster. The current systems for economic recovery, health infrastructure recovery, mental health recovery, and many more aspects of society in the recovery from a disaster need to




be analyzed and critiqued for improvement. Many of the current uses of foreign aid during recovery have not been effective as the world continues to be divided between the rich and the poor. Those that are poverty stricken will be more susceptible to natural disasters and so during recovery from natural disasters, it is important that the status quo is not the goal and that a true recovery renders the victim less and not more susceptible to future disasters. In disaster scenarios, monetary support will always be needed from sources external to the country that was devastated, but building up internal infrastructure that will support the country is the best way to mitigate future disasters and help rebuild the country from ruins. Only when we consider all of these factors and look at long term solutions can we truly say we have recovered, until then we are merely using Band-Aids to stop the internal bleeding.

XII. Rebuilding for the Future: Tsunami Prediction and Warning Systems
In the wake of the massive destruction caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami, it was readily evident that the problem lay not only in the fact that there were many poor coastal communities in vulnerable areas, but there was also a distinct lack of a warning system in which to provide adequate warning of an impending tsunami. Without such a warning system, the coastal communities and indeed, each affected country’s government wasn’t able to respond in time with appropriate methods in order to minimize damage and save lives. The ability for a tsunami to travel great distances in a matter of minutes contributed greatly to the need for a real-time warning system that could be used to warn the areas at risk. Although several systems are in place to analyze the disaster after the event, these systems cannot help to prevent the immediate damage caused by a tsunami. 38

The study of former events, however helpful, cannot help to predict a future tsunami if a real-time system is unavailable to be coupled with the data. The current plan for the Indian Ocean region comprises of three main parts, firstly the Global Ocean Observing System, Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART), and the Global Sea Level Observation System. The combination of these three tools allow for an effective warning system to be set up62. Interestingly enough, there are such systems in place already for the Pacific Ocean. Specifically for the DART systems, at least 6 operation sensors are set up in an array around the projected epicenters of mega-thrust earthquakes, providing warning to the coastal cities of the United States as well as the island state of Hawaii 63. Cleary these sensor systems would be too far away for them to have warned countries about the Indian Ocean tsunami, but if given a chance, a similar array of sensors could be deployed in the affected area to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed the sensor array deployed in the Pacific Ocean in conjunction with the US National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP). Developed in the 1990s, the DART sensor arrays were meant to provide a real-time analysis of deep-sea ocean data, and relay the analysis of that data to a national center to determine whether or not a tsunami was present. This particular sensor system was designed to warn against tsunamis generated by both the Alaska-Aleutian Subduction Zone (AASZ) as well as the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) 64. Historical methods of tsunami detection before the deployment of this array

62 63

Bernard, et al. Early detection and real-time reporting of deep-ocean tsunamis. Bernard, et al. Deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART): Brief overview and status report. 64 Ibid.


depended heavily on land measured seismic data and coastal tide gauge observations. However, the likelihood of false-alarms is increased by these types of warning systems, as there are no direct measurements of whether a tsunami has been generated by the earthquake or not 65. From the 1970s to the deployment of the DART sensor array, the rate of false alarms was at 75%. These false alarms can lead to wasted funds and energy directed at an unnecessary evacuation as well as a false sense of security presented by repeated false tsunami warnings66. It is for this reason that the DART sensor system was desperately needed, in order to ascertain whether or not a tsunami was actually generated. Each element of the DART sensor consists of an underwater package as well as a surface package. The underwater system is placed upon the ocean floor, anchored by a 720-lb anchor, and employs bottom pressure recorders that are able to measure a tsunami with amplitude as small as 1 cm in 6000 m of water 67. As an electronic link between the underwater package and the surface package is unfeasible given the bottom pressure recorder is underwater and the distance between the ocean floor and the surface, an acoustic modem is employed to transmit the data between the two devices. The bottom pressure recorder were set to transmit data every fifteen minutes, and if the conditions favorable for a tsunami were detected, the bottom pressure recorder would increase its transmit time to once a minute 68. This type of system helps to minimize the power used by the bottom pressure recorders, as alkaline batteries with an expected life span of 12 months power them.

65 66

Milburn, et al. Real-Time Tsunami Reporting from the Deep Ocean. Bernard, et al. Deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART). 67 Titov, et al. "Real-Time Tsunami Forecasting: Challenges and Solutions." Natural Hazards. 35(1) (2005). 68 Milburn, et al. Real-Time Tsunami Reporting from the Deep Ocean.


The surface package of this two-part device is comprised of an antenna with a satellite uplink as well as an underwater acoustic modem that is mounted on a 2.5-m disk buoy with a 4.2-ton displacement in order to minimize the chance of it capsizing. The buoy itself has the capability to be equipped with additional sensors in order to gather data on wind speed & direction, barometric pressure, sea surface temperature & conductivity, air temperature, and relative humidity 69. The buoy itself is tied to anchors at the ocean floor weighing about 6850 lbs, connected by a combination of chains and nylon rope of varying diameters. This allows the buoy freedom to float on the surface but not the ability for it to float away from its assigned area 70. The received acoustic signal from the underwater modem is then transmitted through its antennae to a satellite, and then the signal is transmitted back down to a central hub. Although the DART sensor array system was initially useful and provided an adequate early warning system, problems such as data transmission dropout and electronic failures began to plague the system. Data dropouts were could be attributed to a variety of causes. Several proposed reasons include environmental effects, damages to the cable connecting the acoustic modems on the bottom of the buoy to the satellite transmitter, acoustic interference by ship noise, acoustic interference from biological noise, signal degradation by the lowering of the thermocline below 95 m, and acoustic interference by rain noise71. This type of error can be costly as it led to periods of data dropout that lasted up to 10 days. The potential consequences of a malfunctioning system are enormous, as it would be the same as not having a system in place. Many lives could
69 70

Bernard, et al. Deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART). Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. From Commitments to Action: Advancements in Developing an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (Paris, France: Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, 2006). 71 Ibid.


be lost and as such a more robust system is now being developed in order to combat the proposed problems. The frequency of data transmission is being moved to another part of the spectrum in order to avoid interference by biological sources, ship sources, and rain 72. In addition to that, the encoding for the transmitted signal is also being revamped to include a larger checksum bit, which will allow for a greater accuracy in the determination of whether the data is really data transmitted by the bottom pressure recorder. Even though the current DART system has many problems, it is still significantly better than having no system set up at all. That is the case of the Indian Ocean, where no such real-time monitoring system has been set up. Before the tsunami, the system in place would rely on data systems that were outdated and based on indirect measurements. Furthermore, no centralized base to warn affected countries of impending tsunamis was in place, leading to some countries being woefully unprepared for the massive waves. It is necessary to have such a system to ensure that all people are prepared for a natural disaster, in order to save the most amounts of people possible. The implementation of such a system in the Indian Ocean will not be an easy task. In addition to placing the buoys in the territorial waters of sovereign nations, the cost to purchase a DART buoy is about $250,000 and maintenance of each buoy is estimated at $125,000 per year without including the amount necessary to get a ship in order to service the buoys. For America itself, the expansion of the array (one more buoy per year) and the maintenance of the buoys is estimated to be at $1,200,000 per year over the next five years and the maintenance of the six buoy array is estimated to be $800,000 per


Bernard, et al. Deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART).


year exclusive of ship time73. Someone has to pay for these buoys, and the process of their deployment is mired in the negotiations of the financial details. Following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, there has been progress made with respect to establish a real-time early warning system. The Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission established the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System was established
Figure 9: Deep sea ocean buoy (Bernard, González et al. 2000)

in the June of 2005, in order to provide direction towards the creation of sensor systems. The Intergovernmental Coordination Group pledged to establish 23 stations of real-time sea-level observation network in order to cover the entirety of the Indian Ocean basin 74. Two other parts of the group’s effort includes having more deep-sea bottom pressure recorders as well as having an improved seismographic network. This system is expected to be operational by July of 2006, hopefully before another major earthquake can strike the area. Although the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission established several intergovernmental coordination groups for tsunami and other warning systems, it is still questionable as to their actual effectiveness. Many of the villages that are in the affected
73 74

Ibid. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. From Commitments to Action: Advancements in Developing an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System.


areas were small fishing communities. How will the intergovernmental coordination groups plan to disseminate the warning of an impending tsunami to the countries, and then have that information given to the smaller villages on a short notice?

Figure 10: Tsunami detection and warning system (United States Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation. 2004)

A set standard has been devised in order to allow each bulletin pertaining to tsunami warnings to be the same. This allows people who are reading the bulletins to get used to where the data most pertinent to them is. This bulletin is comprised of a header, and a statement to which this bulletin is relevant for. The type of bulletin then follows this, which can either be simply an information bulletin or an actual tsunami watch. If indeed the bulletin is an actual tsunami watch, earthquake parameters including magnitude and time are included along with sea level information. Whether this has the potential to be a destructive tsunami is then stated underneath with a statement as to whether a follow up bulletin should be expected 75. This standardized format helps to get people used to seeing a certain format, and allows people to quickly view information



that is useful to them. In order to get this information out to the countries that need it quickly, several methods are employed. These include using the Global Telecommunications System of the World Meteorological Organization, the internet (including e-mail), telefax, using the United States NOAA weather wire, and using the United States Advanced Weather Information Processing System 76. Successful dissemination of this information is definitely vital to the continued safety of the coastal regions at risk of tsunamis. In order for these bulletins and warnings to work properly, it has been established by the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission that each governments’ respective tsunami or disaster organization must receive reports around the clock and have a plan in place in order to act upon the bulletins. The most difficult aspect, as mentioned, would be to contact the coastal fishing villages and minor communities that are scattered among the countries. As many of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean lack the monetary


Figure 11: Process of tsunami bulletins (United States Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce Milburn, et al. Real-Time Tsunami Reporting from the Deep Ocean. Science and Transportation. 2004)


and technological capabilities in order to implement a warning system, solutions must be sought so that the real-time warning arrays that are implemented in the ocean are not wasted. In order to address these issues, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as well as the International Oceanic Commission mandated international help in order to facilitate the building of the real-time sensor systems as well as the creation of a warning system to draw attention to the outlying communities that may be affected by tsunamis77. Such systems could possibly include having a receiver station at each community to warn of the approaching tsunami. This receiver station could receive the reports from each country’s disaster watch agency, and allow for the population to withdraw to higher ground. Money is still an issue that needs to be addressed in building such a system. The infrastructure required calls for many such stations to be built, sometimes in areas that have no other forms of technology available. Technological capabilities for this infrastructure would have to be borrowed from other more advanced countries, and the monetary funds for this would have to be borrowed from other countries or funds like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. Grants from the United Nations could also be used to fund such an initiative. Although a vast majority of this program is reliant upon technological initiatives to detect tsunamis and inform the general populace, one of the greatest things that are needed in the scope of disaster mitigation is general education of the population. The people must be taught how to respond to tsunamis within minutes of a warning being delivered, of where to go and what personal belongings they are able to take with them. In addition to that, all the education has to be done while keeping in mind the different

Titov, et al. "Real-time tsunami forecasting."


cultures, languages, and religious beliefs of the population 78. Thus each specific country must undertake this part of the mitigation plan; in order to tailor their person evacuation plans to their specific types of people. Community preparedness must be custom designed for each area, and distributed to the population so that they are aware of the dangers posed by a tsunami. Education and preparedness improves people’s chances of survival in a disaster situation. This type of warning system is desperately needed, given the scope of the damage suffered at the hands of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Without such a system it is easy to see that many lives can be lost, and the affected countries can also sustain millions of dollars in infrastructure damage. The real-time early warning system buoys are also a necessary part of the early-detection system, but they are expensive systems. In light of that, the United States has announced that it will expand its own capabilities as a contribution to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems. Thirty-two new tsunami assessment and reporting buoys are in line to be deployed in addition to the current existing ones and this data would be transmitted to the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission’s International tsunami Information Center in Honolulu, Hawaii 79. Contributions from countries such as the United States are steps in allowing the realization of worldwide coverage. This coverage is expected to be operation by mid2007. Although progress is slowly being made towards this goal, much work still needs to be completed before it can fully be relied upon to save the world.

78 79

Bernard, et al. Deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART). Milburn, et al. Real-Time Tsunami Reporting from the Deep Ocean.


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