Every 5 November the world recognizes World Tsunami Awareness Day. This day emphasizes Target "C" of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Target "C" is specifically about minimizing the total economic loss tsunami suffering nations reflect with regards to their Gross Domestic Product. Populations, ecosystems and economies of nations located on the coasts of Asia and South America have been disproportionately affected by harms that accompany tsunamis.
Following a tsunami in 2010, Chile- located on the South-Western coast of Latin America, has strengthened their tsunami response infrastructure by establishing legal and institutional measures that forewarn the population. Similarly, the ‘Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011’, has spurred the Japanese government’s gradual retrofitting of its coastal cities in response to the tsunami threat.
Why an International Day?
Tsunamis are a natural disaster common to a relatively small subset of the world’s environment and population, but with devastating consequences. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) works to spread awareness about what these countries face. The UNISDR encourages governments facing the constant threat of a tsunami to engage in proactive policy making that initiates dialogue between and within nations to address the appropriate methods needed to respond to a tsunami crisis. Safeguarded countries like Canada are encouraged to engage in efforts to assist in reducing the impacts of tsunamis.
For the past three decades the United Nations has put forward international efforts towards fighting the effects of tsunamis. In 1994, the Yokohama Strategy for a Safer World was created to reduce the damage done by natural disasters. This strategy emphasized the need for local communities to initiate disaster reduction protocols and identified that most vulnerable countries do not have the financial resources to invest in risk reduction activities.
In 2005, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters was implemented by the UNISDR. The framework built on the Yokohama Strategy and focused on consolidating disaster risk reduction efforts towards: governance, risk identification, knowledge management, education, reducing underlying risk factors, and preparedness for effective response and recovery.
The Sendai Framework 2015-2030 builds on both the Yokohama and the Hyogo plans but acknowledges that in the last decade the death toll from natural disasters have continued to increase. Approximately 700 000 people have died, over 1.4 million injured and 23 million have been displaced due to natural disasters over the ten years. In total, over $1.3 trillion has been lost due to natural disasters. The Sendai Framework is focusing on the financial investment in disaster reduction techniques, infrastructure, and educational programs to thwart the consequences of natural disasters like Tsunamis.
What is a tsunami?
According to the study of plate tectonics, beneath the Earth’s crust lies the lithosphere, which is divided into various plates that move in relation to each other. When these plates collide, they slide under or above one another resulting in mountain ranges, steep valleys, volcanoes and earthquakes that immediately or gradually alter the Earth’s surface. When oceanic plates collide in the middle of an ocean a ripple effect occurs, and waves are pushed in all directions. As a result, nearby land and its constituents are threatened by the impending influx of waves.
Are we making it worse?
The slow, but gradual increase in global temperatures is exacerbating the intensity of natural disasters. An increasing global climate has not been proven to increase the frequency of natural disasters, however, there is existing research on a possible link between climate change and the intensity of natural disasters performed by ChiChing Liu. Liu and his colleagues investigated the timing between typhoons that hit Taiwan and the earthquakes that followed shortly after. He explains that the concentrated atmospheric pressure that is a characteristic of hurricanes and typhoons is strong enough to permit plates to move more freely under the earth’s surface. The intensity and duration of these hurricanes and typhoons increase the built-up tension between plates causing plate movement that may lead to earthquakes.
Although tsunamis are a major threat to a minority of the global population, all countries that create a carbon footprint participate in contributing to their formation. Being conscious of our contributions to climate change through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 can potentially mitigate some of the consequences.
Can we make it better?
SDG 13 advocates for an urgent response to climate change. This goal will require all parties involved to build on the progress of the UN's Paris Agreement. Established in 2016, the Paris Agreement calls for a unified international effort to mitigate the consequences of climate change, tsunamis being one of them. In that same year, global warming set a record reaching 1.1 degrees Centigrade above the Pre-Industrial Period.
Canadian efforts were instrumental in providing aid to Tsunami-affected countries. The Canadian Red Cross supported the long-term recovery of nations that were affected by the countries affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. Additionally, the Canadian Red Cross assisted the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, two organizations that are conducting long-term recovery programs in tsunami affected countries. Although it is hard to find specific organizations dedicated to reducing tsunamis or spreading tsunami awareness across Canada, organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Toronto Green Alliance focus on reducing the city’s overall carbon footprint. Although indirectly, the organizations listed may contribute in reducing climate change causes, thereby incidentally avoiding potential global-warming related natural disasters like tsunamis.
World Tsunami Awareness Day is not solely about tsunamis. It is about the steps we take as global citizens to reduce global warming and climate change. Despite the infrequency of tsunamis, the countries that experience them must deal with the recovery for years after. Whether its engaging dialogue, sharing policy-making techniques or reducing our ecological footprint, we can assist the ongoing process of building natural disaster resilience as a global community.