By Kalana Krishantha
On December 26, we commemorate 14th anniversary of the deadly tsunami which occurred in 2004 and affected 14 countries and millions of people, including Sri Lanka. A 9.2 magnitude earthquake which was generated near the western coast of Sumatra caused Asia`s deadliest tsunami.
The destruction, loss and disappointment caused distress across the world which paved the way for a large amount of money to come in and be given to government and non-governmental organisations.
The billions of dollars which flowed into government agencies, as well as to the non-governmental agencies of affected 14 countries. However, whether the funds were allocated in a proper manner or whether the affected people received their fair share are questions which still remains a mystery not only where Sri Lanka is concerned but for all other Asian countries.
It was a disaster that hit 14 countries including Sri Lanka India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Somalia, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya, the Seychelles and Tanzania.
Indonesia was the worst affected with the worse loss in both human as well as physical loss. Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were also badly affected. Many foreigners who were on their December vacation in these countries were killed by the strong tidal waves.
In some coastal villages in Sri Lanka and the other countries more than half of the villagers were killed and some children lost both parents and ended up being orphans and added to the misery they were refugees as well with no place and no one to turn to. Both materially and psychologically people became helpless. Meanwhile, on the 10th anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami Indonesia’s province of Aceh – the worst-hit area – Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla led tributes to the dead at the Siron mass grave.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also laid a wreath of remembrance.
More than 200,000 people died when an underwater earthquake set off massive waves on 26 December 2004.
According to Oxfam, the well-known relief agency, five million people were affected of which 1.7 million ended up being homeless, half a million were injured and more than 230,000 were killed.
As mentioned earlier, the earthquake had a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale with waves travelling as much as 2km inside to the countries. The US Geological Survey once said it that the Indian Ocean tsunami released energy equivalent to 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.
What happened to Sri Lanka?
Tsunamis and massive tidal waves generated by the destructive earthquake that struck off the western coast of northern Sumatra, attacked and invaded the Eastern, Southern and large parts of the Western coasts of Sri Lanka. The waves killed thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure and inundated large areas of coastal lands. Of the 25 districts in the country, 12 were severely affected. There were 35,000 deaths, hundreds and thousands of refugees due to the destructive impact of the tsunami.
The tidal wave has in particular affected the coastal districts of, Ampara, Batticaloa, Hambantota, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Matara and Galle and areas in the North and East of the country.
The impact had been destructive for those communities affected as the massive loss of life has decimated communities. In the most harmfully affected districts, a large numbers of displaced were taking refuge in schools and government buildings and were out in the open on areas of higher ground with little or no access to life sustaining services and facilities. People lived in very difficult conditions for years and finally the Government was able to build permanent houses for refugees with the support of local and international non-governmental organisations.
National Commemorations -2018
National Commemorations for 2018 in memory of the tsunami disaster and its victims will be held in Peraliya, Galle on 26 December where the largest single rail disaster in world history occurred with a death toll of probably 1,700 fatalities or more. The strong tidal waves hit the crowded passenger train and derailed it almost overturning the train with its force and destroyed it.
A spokesman for the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) told Ceylon Today that National commemorations would be held with the participation of religious leaders, civil society activists and victims who were affected by the tsunami disaster and still among the living.
He added that parallel to the national commemoration, islandwide commemorations too will be held.
“Awareness programmes are being conducted throughout the country and we will take this opportunity to spread awareness regarding natural disasters”, he said.
When Ceylon Today queried about the current readiness of DMC to face such a disaster, a spokesman for DMC, Janaka Handunpathirajage said they were prepared to face any future disaster. Real time monitoring was put in place, where 77 tsunami warning towers and rescue teams were always ready to face such a disaster.
“We have mechanisms to face any major disaster now. A 24-hour active operation room at the DMC with necessary staff to monitor such threats and mechanisms have already been put in place to implement in the event such an emergency occurs”, he said.
“We are living in a world where natural disasters are becoming frequent and hundreds and thousands of people are becoming victims of natural disasters not only tsunamis, hurricanes, storms, volcanic eruptions, floods and drought have now a become common phenomenon now. According to the Global Climate Risk index, Sri Lanka was placed second for 2019. Many disasters can be expected and national policies should be updated and improved to face increasing risks.
In related information, coastal residents near Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano faced a deadly tsunami just last week.
On the previous Saturday (22), giant waves invaded into coastal towns on the islands of Sumatra and Java, and killed at least 281 people and injured 1,016.
It is thought that volcanic activity set off undersea landslides which in turn generated the killer waves.
Anak Krakatau erupted again on Sunday (23), spewing ash and smoke.
Anak Krakatau, which emerged in 1927 from the caldera that was formed during the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, has seen increased activity in recent months with people being asked to avoid the area around its crater.
And yet it is a well-known fact that volcanoes have the capacity to generate massive waves and create tsunamis. The physical mechanism is the displacement of a large volume of water.
The incident itself reminds us of the dark memories related to the 2004 giant tsunami.