Daya Hewapathirane Ph.D Ontario, Canada :''The December 26, 2004 Tsunami onslaught of Sri Lanka is the most devastating environmental extreme that the country has experienced in its living memory. By January 14, 2005, twenty days after disaster occurrence, the magnitude of lives lost amounted to 30,752, injured were 15,122, missing were 5903 and the total displaced was estimated at 1-1/2 million. The number of houses completely damaged was 88,506 while 28, 854 were partially damaged.
As far as negative impacts are concerned, there are direct and indirect impacts, short and long term impacts, quantifiable tangible impacts and non-quantifiable intangible losses. Some intangible losses may be priceless and some may be irreplaceable. Among disaster effects that are beyond monetary quantification are distress and mental trauma experienced by many tsunami victims, among them being the many orphaned children, the homeless, those who lost family members, those whose livelihood was disrupted, and the many who suffered property loss, and loss of income. There is the possibility of reduced land values in the tsunami affected coastland.
Broad-based Program of DevelopmentThere was no government policy towards tsunami and no planned program of emergency measures as a form of government response to such an eventuality. This is primarily because the authorities did not perceive the possibility of a tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka. There are no tsunami warning mechanisms in Sri Lanka, and no coordinated rescue and emergency response program, including emergency hospital, morgue and medical services, to handle in a coordinated manner, large numbers of injured people. Transport was a serious problem and ambulance services were non-existent in most places. So was police security and emergency services.
Integrated Multi disciplinary Planning ApproachThere are significant long-term benefits in adopting an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to planning reconstruction, rehabilitation and long-term development of the tsunami prone coastal zone of Sri Lanka. Minimizing possible future tsunami and other coastal hazard effects, maximizing coastal resources use in a sustainable manner, and improving living conditions of the coastal inhabitants, would be furthered, if the coastal reconstruction and rehabilitation program is integrated into a broader program of environmental, social and economic development. Such an endeavor will involve the assessment of the natural and human resources base of the coastal zone, and the natural and human-caused hazards that commonly occur in this zone.
An interdisciplinary approach facilitates fuller understanding of the coastal resources base, the characteristics of the tsunami and other hazards of coastal environment, and of varied hazard effects. This forms the basis of identification of appropriate strategies and measures to cope with hazards while maximizing sustainable resource use.
The Significance of CoastlandsThe coastal areas are among the most valued land of the island. They are among the resource-rich, climatically invigorating and densely inhabited land in the country. They are used for a diversity of economic and recreational activities, fishing and tourist industry being the most common. Many important urban centers, most being historic settlements, are located in coastlands.
Fishing villages, croplands and a diversity of industries are characteristic of the land use of coastal areas. Tourism is one of the primary sources of income in the country and the coastal regions are among the most popular tourist areas in the country. Many service industries, handicraft and local fine arts enterprises based on the tourist industry are located in coastal locations. Some of the most scenic environments in the country with lovely sandy beaches, sandbars, rock outcrops, coral reefs, peninsulas, bays and lagoons and unique vegetation including coconut palms adorn the coastal areas. The tropical ocean in many places offer excellent opportunities for those interested in water based recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, fishing, boating, and other forms of water sports.
Many historic sites are located in the coastal region, including the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site of Galle. Particularly in the coastal zone of the Western and Southern provinces, demographic characteristics are marked by mix of all communities of the country - Sinhela, Muslim, Tamil, Moor, Burger, Buddhists, Hindus, Islamists, and Christians.
Coastlines contain some of the most popular and diverse transportation routes in the country. Its railways and major road arteries serve a large population, and form the main transportation routes connecting the City of Colombo with most other parts of the country.
The Range of Hazards Besides, tsunami, coastal erosion, flooding, salinity, damage to and depletion of coral reefs, water-borne diseases, indebtedness, unemployment, landlessness, crime and child-abuse are among the known natural and human-caused hazards of coastal regions, particularly in the widely inhabited coastal environments.
An integrated approach involves the assessment of this array of environmental and human-caused hazards. They include experienced and potential hazards and their impacts. Impacts of coastal hazards would take the form of direct, indirect, tangible, intangible, short-term and long-term.
The integrated approach avoids the adoption of a narrow perspective of focusing on the tsunami hazard in isolation. All other environmental hazards and community issues in the coastal belt need to be taken into account. It is an opportunity to identify, characterize and plan against all environmental and socio-economic problems of coastlands. Conditions that bring about variation in the effects of the tsunami and other hazards will be investigated. These will include the physical characteristics of these hazards, land and water use characteristics of the hazard prone areas and coastal water bodies including the open ocean, including other variables in the physical and human environment of coastal areas having direct or indirect impact on the hazards.
Alternative Strategies and MeasuresIt is necessary to consider all strategies, and canvass all possible practical ways of preventing, avoiding and minimizing future damages and costs occasioned by extreme natural events and other extremes of the coastal environment. Some of these measures will be emergency actions such as a program of emergency preparedness, response, including emergency hospital and medical services. Warnings, planned evacuation, organization and management of relief centres, supply and coordination of relief supplies, are among other emergency actions.
Zoning, land use regulation and planning, relocation of buildings, and structural modifications to minimize damages, flood proofing or a planned combination of structural change and emergency action, insurance are among the more permanent measures that are available to minimize and distribute losses.
An important observation during the tsunami was the behavior of both wild and domesticated animals. They were the first the evacuate disaster prone areas. Animal behavior under threat of an oncoming tsunami or extreme natural event, needs to be research extensively. It can lead to the development of useful biological techniques of tsunami warnings which in combination with predictions based on seismological and oceanographical devices, could lead to the development of a sound system of tsunami prediction and warning. Having a system of warning will not always be effective unless people respond to it. Experience with flood warning show that often people have little faith in public warnings and tend to wait until the last moment before evacuating. People tend to perceive environmental extremes in ways that are not always compatible to that of the professional. With more public education and information on tsunamis, there is the possibility of getting the required response to warning from people.
Controlling environmental extremes such as the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka is an impossibility. However, there are ways of coping with losses occasioned by such events. This involves adjusting and adapting to the hazard. Among these coping methods are actions to reduce losses, actions to regulate or control losses, actions to distribute losses such as relief and insurance, actions to regulate or modify the physical event, and bearing losses.
All possible alternative measures will be considered in planning reconstruction and rehabilitation programs in the tsunami affected coastal regions. Appropriate combinations of such alternatives may be identified for specific sites, based upon variation evident in the characteristics of the tsunami event, and differences in overall characteristics of the physical and human environment of the affected places and their inhabitants.
In the identification and assessment of all possible strategies and measures to minimize hazard impacts, it is important to assess the consequences of such strategies and actions on the resources base and its use. The economy of these coastal areas are based upon the resource base and its use.
In the assessment of measures to cope with one hazard, their positive and negative impacts on other hazards will receive attention. This enables the identification of alternative strategies and techniques that are complementary and compatible to one another. Measures taken against one hazard therefore, will not have the effect of aggravating the impact of other hazards or negate the positive effects of actions taken against other hazards. Therefore, under the integrated approach, the range of strategies and measures that will be identified, will not work at cross-purposes and thereby become counterproductive. This is a multi-hazard approach to planning which takes into account alternative approaches and means of coping with varied environmental hazards and issues that have implications for overall development of the coastal zone.
The integrated approach is necessarily interdisciplinary and participatory. Collaborative interaction of a diverse range of professionals with diverse disciplinary perspectives will be necessary for successful implementation of the planning process. Much could be achieved by a research and planning team that consists of Geographers, Environmental scientists, Oceanographers, Hydrologists, Engineers, Economists, Sociologists, Urban, Rural and Infrastructure Planners among others.
The participatory approach should necessarily involve those living and working in coastal areas and also those who were affected by coastal hazards including the tsunami. This is especially important in the identification and evaluation of hazard mitigation and loss reduction measures and coastal resources development initiatives.
Local Emergency PersonnelOthers who should be participants in the planning process are those who acted as the first responders to the tsunami disaster and other natural hazards. They are the people themselves - neighbors, neighboring villages that are unaffected, the local Buddhist clergy and community leaders and subsequently the local and national emergency response personnel. They include those who volunteered for emergency and related work during and immediately after the disaster with true humanitarian feeling and care for their people in distress. They serve without any form of payment of help from any local or foreign agency. This has been the practice all along during times of disaster in Sri Lanka. These people already have a home in the community, they already know the language, they already have a working knowledge of the geography and the indigenous transportation systems. They are the best volunteers that the affected community has and they should be accorded support and appreciation. The more volunteers that come from abroad, the greater the risk that they will fill up the hotel rooms, and utilize critical local resources which may be needed in the response locally.
Sustainability will be a primary consideration in the planning process, in designing of a program of measures that will minimize losses and negative effects and maximize the positive impacts in view of enriching the coastal environment, and the community that lives and works in it.
Coping with the Tsunami HazardAs far as the Tsunami hazard is concerned, this comprehensive research and planning project will identify effective strategies and practical methods to mitigate the devastating consequences of tsunami hazard events, such as loss of human life, injury, disease and long term impacts on the physical and mental well-being of people, impact on children, damage and destruction of property, damage to the environment, economic disruption, income loss, and social dislocation.
Issues such as vegetation and land use in coastal regions and structural developments along the coastline to modify wave action, sand bar formations are considerations that have to be taken into account in an overall restoration, reconstruction and rehabilitation program pertaining to the sensitive coastal environment.
To mitigate tsunami hazards, the first priority is to improve the identification of the tsunami-inundation zone and within it the region with high tsunami risk. (In Japan, to minimize the inundation area, tsunami seawalls (often more than 10-m high) have been constructed along the shoreline.)
Tsunami Severity ZonesMapping and demarcating the tsunami inundation zone become an important initial step in the research and planning process. On the basis of the variation in the degree of tsunami proneness and damage potential this zone may be divided into high, moderate and low tsunami hazard areas in terms of the severity of hazard impact. Within each of these three zones, it is necessary to map the physical, human and land use characteristics, including such aspects like variation in elevation, drainage pattern, vegetation, soils and geological characteristics, land use characteristics, the distribution of population, houses and other structures.
This information has important implications for the identification and planning of measures to cope with tsunami hazards in future. It is useful in designing appropriate evacuation routes as well as routes for search and rescue. It will help in developing measures such as zoning, land use regulations, relocation of critical and high-occupancy facilities, planning of structural modifications and adjustments to minimize disaster damage.
In identifying relevant strategies and measures to cope with existing and potential disasters, it is necessary to examine closely the existing and former demographic and land use characteristics within demarcated disaster zones.
Also important is an assessment of the effectiveness of the measures adopted before, during, and the days following hazard occurrence. This will include actions taken by individuals, the community and the government, especially the emergency actions such as warning, rescue, emergency relief and rehabilitation, emergency medical services, communications and information.
Coastal Land Use and Structures It is important to identify the various natural and human-made characteristics and structures within the tsunami hazard zones that are confronted by potential tsunami waves. Examination of these tsunami-structure interactions is significant in the identification of effective damage reduction measures. The impact that the tsunami had on these coastal area physical and human environmental characteristics needs to be examined.
As tsunamis run up the coast, it is inevitable that coastal material such as sand, soil, rock, debris, trees and vegetation, and other objects in the sea and on coastal surfaces including large and heavy items, including building material and building contents are dislodged, moved and carried forth. These objects become water-born projectiles that can impact and destroy structures along the paths of the tsunami.
Some structures are subject to serious damage owing to the impact of these water-born moving objects. The degree of damage will vary depending upon the tsunami characteristics such as the suddenness of on set and velocity of flow, including the composition of seawater of things collected and carried forth by the tsunami. It is important that engineers determine the nature of tsunami induced forces in order to better design structures on the waterfront and help guide the decision making process in issues of land use.
To improve the prediction capability of tsunami run-up models by including more accurately the effects of dispersion and wave breaking. To achieve practical means of describing the complex run-up flows within the context of their interactions with structures, trees, rocks, and vehicles, as well as with other typical, complex coastal features such as berms, dunes, earthen dikes (typical around tank installations), and river inlets.
The advancement of this proposed research will contribute to other tsunami mitigation endeavors such as the tsunami database, bathymetry and coastal-topography data management, hazard mapping, education, warning, planning, and the development of community-model activities.
Local Emergency ResponseThe first responders in any fast-onset natural disaster like the tsunami are the local people, the neighbors, neighboring villages that are unaffected, the local leadership such as Buddhist clergy and community leaders and eventually the local and national emergency response agencies. The people who volunteered during this crisis period did it with a caring humanitarian spirit for their people in distress. Besides involvement in rescue, evacuation and transportation to temples, schools and other unaffected public places, hospitals and medical centers, they were the first to provide disaster victims with needed food, clothing and other essentials. This has been the practice all along during times of disasters in Sri Lanka.
Any future emergency planning should be looking into ways by which the valued services of these true volunteers are given well-deserved recognition. It is the most practical and reliable form of emergency response that needs to be encouraged and helped. They already have a working knowledge of the geography and the local road and transportation systems. The more volunteers that come from abroad, the greater the risk that they will fill up the hotel rooms, and utilize critical local resources which may be needed in the response locally.
Besides, their service is limited by their lack of knowledge of local languages and the geography and the social settings of the affected region.
Public Education and Information
Educating the risk prone public in coastal areas on tsunami threats is of fundamental importance. Also, Sri Lanka needs to develop effective internal information networks to get warnings and news fast to local communities. Special telephones and other forms of communication are important. The value of cell phones or mobile phones was greatly felt during the tsunami crisis in informing, warning, directing and communicating with people. The communities need to be educated on how to respond to warnings. People working with volunteers who are trained beforehand, can alert the local populations of abnormalities observed in the ocean.
A wide range of alternative strategies and measures may be available to reduce tunami damages. Appropriate combinations of these alternatives could be adopted on the basis of the characteristics of tsunami losses and coastal area occupance.
Institutional arrangements to handle environmental extremes of coastal regions is a high importance. Programs should not be distributed among several public agencies. The effectiveness of programs may be impaired by difficulties in securing needed program coordination during times of crisis. Public education and information on the tsunami hazards and response to them, are of primary importance.
Integrated planning demands a great variety of data – physical, biological, economic, and social. As far as understanding characteristics of the tsunami events are concerned, relevant information in disciplines such as seismology, oceanography, geomorphology, hydrology, biology, geography may be useful. In assessing alternative actions to cope with tsunami hazards, data requirements will extend to disciplines such as engineering, environmental sciences, urban and rural planning, sociology, economics, and a host of other social and management sciences, including GIS. A fair amount of data appears to be available at government agencies involved in coastal environments, fisheries and related research. There may be the need to improve the available data-base by research and extensive field investigations. ''