14 years on: The Indian Ocean Tsunami taught the importance of inclusion in disaster risk reduction

UNDP and UNISDR video “Leaving No-one behind: Helping the most vulnerable to be prepared for tsunamis” was produced to mark World Tsunami Awareness Day 2018.

Tsunamis do not discriminate when they hit but their impact on vulnerable groups can be harder than on others. Today 14 years ago, the Indian ocean tsunami devastated thousands of communities across 15 nations. More than 240,000 people were killed, a majority of whom were women and children.

The United Nations Development Porgramme (UNDP) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) produced a video “Leaving No-one Behind: Helping the most vulnerable to be prepared for tsunamis”. The video shows the importance of inclusion in tsunami risk management — how preparedness, early warning and recovery must include the special needs of women, the elderly, persons living with disabilities and very young children.

Women: In Aceh, Indonesia, 77 per cent of casualties were women because they stayed in homes, clustered near the shoreline, taking care of children and elderly when the tsunami hit. In Sri Lanka, women lost their lives because they were never thought to swim or encouraged to climb trees due to cultural restrictions. Coupled with lower education and limited awareness, women are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster, according to UNISDR.

Students, agents of change, bring tsunami safety knowledge to their parents and communities. Photo: UNDP Viet Nam

“There were many unemployed women who died in the 2011 Great Japan Earthquake because they stayed at home during the tsunami or provided care for older people or family members with disability,” said Kazuko Kohri, Sendai Major in the video, explaining the large number of women among causalities in 2011.

Sendai Framework’s seven targets and whole-society approach, adapted after 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, bring women in front and centre of disaster risk reduction in order to minimize deaths caused by disasters

Elderly: With aging societies, disaster preparedness for elders is becoming increasingly important as the special needs of this group haven’t been well accommodated. Eduardo Klien, Regional Director of HelpAge International pointed out how 57 per cent of the casualties of the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan were over 60 years old. This rate was twice as high as on general population.

Students, agents of change, bring tsunami safety knowledge to their parents and communities. Photo: UNDP Viet Nam

“In terms of older people there was almost absolute unpreparedness for tsunamis and very little understanding of what tsunamis were,” Eduardo Klien said, speaking at the “Promoting Inclusion in Tsunami Risk Management” event during the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction. “But it is clear, with strengthened preparedness, better access and use of disaggregated data and strong social organization vulnerability can be significantly reduced,” Klien said.

Disabled: Asia-Pacific, the world’s most disaster-prone region, is home to 650 million persons with disabilities. Disabled individuals are four times more likely to die in disasters because they need special support in times of emergencies.

Tsunami drills in schools in Thailand ensured that their emergency evacuation plans address the needs of all students, including the ones with physical disabilities. Photo: UNDP Thailand

Often excluded from planning and prevention activities like evacuation drills, disaster response and recovery efforts inadequately address the needs of people with disabilities, who make up nearly 15 per cent of society.

Involving disabled individuals into planning, granting suitable access to information, evacuation routes and safe areas would help to reduce loss of lives in tsunami disasters. “Tsunami drill at school was difficult thing for me as I have a physical disability. But, it was important for other students to learn how to help a person with disabilities when a tsunami happens,” said Chakrapong Chuchuay, a student from Phang Nga, Thailand.

Children: UNICEF estimates that one third of the victims of the 2004 tsunami were children. Many of them were working alongside their parents in coastal areas, so they were in harm’s way when the tidal waves came.

Students in the Philippines learn about safe evacuation during the school drills. Photo: UNDP Philippines

Many children stayed at home with their mothers when others run to safety. A large number of children suffered the most after the tsunami because they lost their mothers in the catastrophe.

Knowledge on disasters, awareness of risks and warning signs, and regular practice of safe evacuation can prepare children to save their lives and also educate their family to respond to disasters.

Steps to strengthen tsunami preparedness for all vulnerable groups:

1. Identify vulnerable groups in the community. Make a list of people who need special support during emergencies.

2. Empower vulnerable groups to participate. Work with organizations representing vulnerable groups to advance their capacity.

3. Ensure that the special needs are taken into account when planning for evacuation.

4. Ensure accessible infrastructure with ramps, special evacuation routes, transportation and medical assistance.

5. Ensure equal access to prevention and mitigation programmes regardless age, ability or disability, gender, ethnicity, education, social status etc.

6. Conduct frequent tsunami education activities and evacuation drills.

Read more: Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in Asia and the Pacific