Monday, 16 April 2012

Indian Ocean Earthquake: An Opportunity to Assess Disaster Risk Reduction Progress

Shake Map - USGS
Last week many of us will have been glued to our televisions and laptops, waiting to see what would follow the significant M8.6 earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. It was a relief to finally hear the reports that the earthquake was caused by horizontal plate movement (strike-slip) rather than vertical movement. Whilst there was still a small chance of a tsunami, including from submarine landslides, the ground rupture itself was much less likely to have triggered a tsunami. A significant aftershock followed, and many smaller ones. More aftershocks will occur over the coming weeks and months - with a possibility of ones up to an approximate magnitude of 7.6-7.8.

There are minimal reports of damage, but some consensus that there were five fatalities - some as a result of shock and heart attacks. There was clearly panic and fear across the region as the prospect of another devastating tsunami was comprehended. Most people's worse fears were not realised, although for the families of the five killed and others injured this is not necessarily the case.

It is hard to assess how well systems put into place after past earthquakes and tsunamis worked. There have been fewer reports than I imagined there would be on what this massive earthquake and the reponse by government and communities shows about the effectiveness of lessons learnt. Thankfully, the authorities in Indonesia and surrounding countries, rather than having a massive reconstruction to deal with, now have an opportunity to undertake a widespread assessment of what went well and what didn't go well. Authorities have had a large scale event they can now analyse and use to see how well the authorities communicated warnings (particularly to the most vulnerable people), and how well people responded to these warnings. They can then learn more important lessons and refine emergency procedures for the next time a huge quake hits the region. They can also constrain the most pressing needs within disaster risk reduction.

The event last week in the Indian Ocean was a tragedy for all those that lost family and friends. But from this tragedy is an important opportunity for the authorities to learn valuable and crucial lessons that could save many many lives in the future.

Further Reading