Waves of empathy for tsunami victims: paper

ABU DHABI: A decade after more than 220,000 people died in the tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, doubts linger about how ready countries on the Indian Ocean really are for another giant wave, commented a UAE daily.

“The quake opened a fault line deep beneath the ocean on December 26th, 2004, triggering a wave as high as 17.4 metres that crashed ashore in more than a dozen countries, wiping some communities off the map in seconds,” said The Gulf Today in its editorial on Sunday.

Ten years on, the world remembers the victims with a heavy heart and the outpouring of compassion from countries and people across the globe does come as a balm for the survivors.

Measured in lives lost, this is termed as one of the ten worst earthquakes in recorded history, as well as the single worst tsunami in history. Indonesia was the worst affected area, with most death toll estimates at around 170,000.

According to United Nations experts, some of the worst-affected countries are now better prepared for such disasters and better positioned to respond. However, there is definitely room for improvement.

“A recent Food and Agriculture Organisation-sponsored workshop with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also stressed that additional actions are needed to further increase resilience to disasters, largely due to the effects of rapid population increases and urbanisation, together with eroded natural resource bases and climate change,” added the paper.

The past decade has seen more than $400 million spent across 28 countries on an early-warning system comprising 101 sea-level gauges, 148 seismometers and nine buoys. While such preparations offer comfort, the effectiveness and maintenance of the system need serious attention.

The tsunami caused serious damage and deaths as far as the east coast of Africa, with the farthest recorded death due to the tsunami occurring at Rooi Els in South Africa, 8,000 km away from the epicentre. The livelihoods of some 1.4 million survivors were left in tatters as it destroyed entire food production systems on which the populations depended.

UN experts say with 200 million people in Asia and the Pacific affected each year by a broad range of natural disasters between 2003 and 2013, and with the cost of those disasters averaging US$34 billion each year between 2001 and 2010, a change in approach is essential.

“There is a dire need to continue to invest in preparedness and early warning systems. After all, prevention is anytime better than cure,” concluded the Sharjah-based daily.