The lesser known consequences of Tsunamis
And why they are just as bad as the rest…
“Whenever an earthquake or tsunami takes thousands of innocent lives, a shocked world talks of little else”
Extreme Ecological Impacts
Tsunamis are terrible tragedies that kill thousands of people. However, there are other, lesser-known consequences that can affect society as a whole or the life of an individual. The first lesser known issue is the damage to the ecology of affected nations.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was without a doubt one of the worst tsunamis to ever hit us. Apart from the loss of human lives, immeasurable damages are caused to coral reefs and the plants and animals around the coastal areas where the waves hit. Indonesia’s State Ministry of National Development Planning estimated that 20% of seagrass beds, 30% of coral reefs, and 25-35% of wetlands, and 50% of sandy beaches of the west coast, had been damaged. In some local areas, 90% of the damage was reported to mangroves and coastal forests. These devastations should be further addressed today as our oceans are slowly dying because of water pollution, ocean acidification etc. We need coral reefs to help preserve our oceans. In fact, it takes about 10,000 years for coral reefs to reform. They play a fundamental role in our environment providing nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine organisms. On top of that, they provide habitats for a large number of marine creatures and help in carbon and nitrogen fixing.
In addition to the direct destruction of flora and fauna, tsunamis cause salinization as a lot of seawater rushes inland. Salinization is the buildup of salt in the soil making the soil less fertile to support vegetation. It also increases the soil’s vulnerability to erosion. Some of the other consequences of salinization is the damage caused to infrastructures like the corrosion of underground pipes and cables, the lower water quality for users, sedimentation problems, and increased leaching of metals like copper and cadmium. Experts estimate that only after two years can the soil be returned to its original salinity levels. This process, however, requires plenty of rainfall as well as irrigation with non-saline water.
Economic Downturn For Nations
Another huge problem that is not talked about as much is the financial consequences of tsunamis. According to the Guardian, the boxing day tsunami in 2004, cost the world about 8.71 billion dollars. It also destroyed the economy of various countries like Indonesia, who had to end up paying 4.40 billion U.S dollars. The blow the tsunami imposed reduced it’s GDP right after the disaster and put a halt on the growth for a few years (“Indonesia Economy”, 2010). Countries struggle to recover from this terrible calamity to their economies and almost all the time, large amounts of foreign aid are needed. According to an article by the Brookings, “Of the nearly $1 billion appealed for by the UN, pledges from governments now total more than $800 million.”. However, the question to consider is, how much of the money will coalesce as international attention and resources are diverted towards other disasters? According to an article by the Guardian, many pledges made to survivors of the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran was not fulfilled and survivors stayed in tents for up till two years.
Additionally, foreign aid is refused by many countries as they do not take into account the long term difficulties faced by the survivors like homelessness, lack of basic necessities and services and loss of income, which eventually proves detrimental for individuals and countries. In places like Thailand, which have rejected foreign aid, the government has reportedly not been providing assistance for the thousands of Burmese migrants, who are living in Thai coastal areas and that have been made homeless by the tsunami. All these problems have damaged the overall economy of these countries as it just increases the time countries recover from these terrible catastrophes.
Apart from physical damages to humans, numerous survivors endure catastrophic psychological impacts. According to Cheryl Person, MD, “The conditions left in the wake of a major disaster–one’s house destroyed, the social fabric of one’s existence torn away–are often more damaging to the psyche than the disaster itself”. The survivors tend to experience most of their shock moments after the tsunami has faded as they come back to reality and behold the wreckage and ruin around them. According to Earl Wall, who spent from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 assessing health care needs in Aceh Province, “The real problem is it’s just terribly inhuman to see people everywhere who have died suddenly and violently…”. Additionally, the wreckage and bodies are not removed for a long time as cleanups take a long time and this just increases the trauma faced by survivors as the abhorrent images stay in their minds for a long time. Dr. Person also says “psychological disorder that most often befalls such survivors is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”. These victims experience the same symptoms as other PTSD victims such as:-
- Re-experiencing the trauma via intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, vivid flashbacks or daytime fantasies;
- avoidance, whereby the victim endeavors to avoid situations that prompt memories of the trauma or suppress painful emotions;
- a condition of hyperarousal with insomnia, an exaggerated startle reflex, irritability and, hypervigilance.
However, tsunami survivors are not always prone to PTSD. There are plenty of survivors that do not experience trauma. For instance, Cameron Hunter is a tsunami survivor. He was enjoying a holiday in Phuket when the Boxing Day Tsunami struck. He and his family barely escaped the tragedy and in fact, he was even caught in one of the waves. He explicitly says that “I feel no trauma and in fact, I still visit Phuket every now and then”. This proves that not everyone experiences trauma.
Governments, communities and, individuals like us should not only focus on the immediate and obvious effects but also pay heed to the long term aftermaths of tsunamis like the ones listed above. Just because they are not conspicuous, it doesn’t mean that they are less impactful or relevant. We should be more responsible and spread awareness as these have the potential to be just as or more deadly than the immediate consequences
ABC News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, www.abc.net.au/science/slab/salinity/.
Bam, Dan De Luce in. “Bam Survivors Turn on Iranian Government.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Apr. 2004, www.theguardian.com/environment/2004/apr/02/iran.naturaldisasters.
Cohen, Roberta, and Roberta Cohen. “The Tsunami Tragedy: Political, Economic, and Environmental Lessons.” Brookings.edu, The Brookings Institution, 29 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/on-the-record/the-tsunami-tragedy-political-economic-and-environmental-lessons/.
“Corals.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral07_importance.html.
“Counting the Cost.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 21 Mar. 2011, www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2011/03/21/counting-the-cost.
“Ecological Consequences of Natural Disasters: Tsunami.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/teacher_resources/webfieldtrips/natural_disasters/.
JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “After the Tsunamis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 7 Jan. 2013, www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2005/tsunami/ptsd.html.
M, Dr. “From the Editor’s Desk: The Environmental Impacts of Tsunamis.” Deep Sea News, 21 Mar. 2011, www.deepseanews.com/2011/03/from-the-editors-desk-the-environmental-impacts-of-tsunamis/.
Killing at Least 281 People.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Dec. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/world/indonesia-tsunami-kills-at-least-63-as-casualties-continue-to-climb/2018/12/23/b0b8a5f0-0669-11e9-8186-4ec26a485713_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7fc01962abf0.
Admin. “Indian Ocean Earthquake Tsunami Diagram.” Www.culturebee.co •, 6 Mar. 2019, www.culturebee.co/indian_ocean_earthquake_tsunami_diagram.php.