The Indian Ocean Tsunami: The Global Response to a Natural Disaster

By Pradyumna P. Karan; Shanmugam P. Subbiah | Go to book overview

Introduction
When Nature Turns Savage

Pradyumna P. Karan

Few natural disasters have captured the world’s attention as did the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004. Tsunami, a Japanese term, refers to earthquakegenerated ocean waves associated with the sudden rise or fall of the seafloor that devastate coastal areas (Cartwright and Nakamura 2008). The emotional fascination with the tsunami was propelled by the mass media and live television images of the disaster (Time Special Report, January 10, 2005; Newsweek, January 10, 2005; U.S. News & World Report, January 10, 2005). It killed over 200,000 people and damaged the livelihoods and homes of over 1 million people around the Indian Ocean, from western Indonesia and southern Thailand to coastal Sri Lanka, southeastern India, and the Maldives. The tsunami produced an eerie, surreal landscape of destruction: huge ships and boats stranded miles inland, cars in the sea, lone two- or three-story buildings standing over vast open stretches of the flattened rubble of houses (Greenhough, Jazeel, and Massey 2005). Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand were the hardest hit. Citizens of forty other countries who were in the area were feared dead (Mottet 2005). Local officials and residents faced unprecedented challenges during the hours immediately following the tsunami. These included removing the debris that covered bodies, body identification, health and sanitation issues, and the necessity of creating mass graves. Prior experience with disasters, familiarity with the local area, the quality of preexisting networks among officials, a strong desire to rescue those yet living, and the presence of linkages between government and nongovernmental organizations were critical factors influencing the efficient management of mass fatality in areas impacted by the tsunami (Phillips et al. 2008). Over 9,000 foreign tourists in the area were among the dead or missing.

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