The word ‘Tsunami’ originates from a Japanese word that means, “Harbor wave”. Tsunami are huge waves generated by the deformation of the see floor by several seismic activities that leads in the vertical displacement of the water in the oceans. When traveling over the deep ocean, Tsunami happens to have a low height but on reaching the shallow waters, they transform into huge and high waves. This generally happens near the coasts. One of the deadliest natural calamities ever, caused by tsunami on 26th of December 2004, and generated from an earthquake under the sea, in the Indian Ocean, shook the entire world. The tsunami fathered waves with a height of almost 15 meters in height.
Occurring at about 00:58:53 UTC (07:58:53 local time), the 2004 Tsunami sprang up in the Indian Ocean, in the north of Simeulue island and off the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia. The tsunami ravaged the shores of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and several other nations. According to the records of United States Geological Survey, the magnitude of the earthquake at Sumatra was about 8.9 on the Richter Scale while the epicenter was 10km beneath the seabed. An interesting feature of the seismic tidal waves that was found in different regions of the globe was that the sea water was seen disappearing from the beaches just few minutes prior the huge wave slashed back with immense fury, taking on a huge toll of life.
Almost all the nations located in proximity to the Bay of Bengal were badly affected by Tsunami and India was no exception. The first tsunami that took place in India is recorded to date back to 31st of December, 1881. The magnitude of the earthquake was recorded to be 7.5 on the Richter scale while the epicenter was below the sea, off the Coast of Car Nicobar Island. The last tsunami that took place in India was on 26th June 1941. It was caused by an earthquake having magnitude over 8.5.
It was a quiet Sunday morning after the Christmas celebrations in the year 2004. In different regions like Marina Beach in Chennai, at Kanyakumari, Kerala coast and the Andaman Nicober Islands, people were busy in their work; while women and men were taking a morning walk, the children were busy playing; fishermen were preparing for the day’s catch. Suddenly the waves took it over and everything finished in just a single blow!
The 1st and the strongest earthquake took place at 6.29 AM (Indian Standard Time) just off the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia. The intensity was about 9.0 USGS. This was followed by another one, after 3 hours, at a distance of 81 kilometers (km) in the west of Pulo Kunji Great Nicobar in India. The intensity was recorded to be 7.3 USGS. There were about 115 aftershocks among which about 103 tremors had a magnitude between 5.0 and 6.0 USGS while 12 tremors had a magnitude of more than 6.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquakes resulted in giant tsunami waves of with a height of about 3 to 10 meters that hit the eastern and southern coastal regions in India and also penetrated the inland for up to 3 km, thereby resulting in severe damage at the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, districts of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Pondicherry.
In the tsunami of 2004, India happened to be the 3rd nation that was extensively clobbered along with Indonesia and Srilanka. The states in India that got affected severely were Pondicheri, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Andaman and Nicober Island.
Tsunami and India
The worst affected state in India was Tamil Nadu. About 7,793 people lost their lives. In the Nagapattinam district 5,525 people died; in Kanyakumari there were 808 deaths; Cuddalore district had a death toll of 599; the capital city of Chennai had 206 people dead while Kancheepuram district saw the death of about 124 people. The number of deaths in other districts of Tamil Nadu was Pudukkottai (15), Tirunelveli (4), Ramanathapuram (6), Tiruvallur (28), Thoothukudi (3), Tiruvarur (10), Thanjavur (22), and Viluppuram (47).
In Kanyakumari, mostly the pilgrims died, who were taking a sacred dip in the sea. In Chennai, those near the Marina beach were killed; at Velankanni in the district of Nagapattinam 1,500 people were washed away.
In the Union territory of Pondicherry, about 30,000 people were rendered homeless. The districts that were badly affected were Pondicherry (107 dead), and Karaikal (453 dead). In Pondicherry, Kariakal saw the most devastating affects and maximum number of deaths. Mostly fishermen in this region lost their lives and many were missing.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the districts that were affected were Prakasam (35 dead), West Godavari (8 dead), Nellore (20 dead), Krishna (35 dead), Guntur (4 dead), and East Godavari (3 dead).
In the state of Kerala, the districts that got affected were Alappuzha (32 dead), Kollam (131 dead), Ernakulam (5 dead). About 187 villages and 24.70 lakh people were severely affected. About 6,280 dwelling units were damaged.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands was the worst hit owing to its proximity to the ocean. About 7000 people were badly affected. Aftershocks continue to rock the area. About 1/5th of the population in the islands were dead, injured or missing. The Chowra Island lost 2/3rd of the population. 100 personnel of the Indian Air Force along with their family members were completely washed away at the air base. The base got severely damaged. The St. Thomas Cathedral was also washed away entirely, along with one of the cricket stadiums, named after John Richardson.
Were the Relief Measures Enough?
Even though the Government of India and the State Governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and the administration of Pondicherry, were initially unaware, by the Tsunami attack, yet they then responded quickly.
- State and UT Governments
The Chief Ministers of the different affected states and union territories in India directed the officials of the Revenue Department led by the Relief Commissioner to undertake and organize a search, recovery and relief measures through district collectors with the help of the police, rescue and fire departments and services, health and medical services and the linked departments. Control rooms were opened by the State Relief Commissioners for the proper dissemination of information to the state government as well as the public. Websites related to relief operations and tsunami prevention was opened. With the assistance from the navy, air force, army and coast guard and the senior civil servants placed at the affected areas, the dead bodies were identified at the affected regions, by the district administration and measure were taken for their proper disposal. Further obstacles were removed, people were rescued to safer areas, measures was taken towards stopping the outbreak of epidemics and restoration of the basic services such as supply of water and power. Relief camps at various places were opened. In the state of Tamil Nadu about 44,207 persons were taken to about 58 relief camps. In Pondicherry, 48 relief camps were opened. In Kerala about 24,978 people were kept in 29 relief camps. The state of Andhra Pradesh undertook the opening of 65 relief camps. The Union Territory administration and the State governments also offered relief material and financial assistance to the affected families and also declared several repair subsidies for the house damage.
- Government of India
Several steps were taken at the national level, by the Government of India. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the Government of India was deputed as the nodal body that was responsible for coordinating and offering relief measures in the different areas of the states and union territories in India that were affected by the Tsunami of 2004. The body also created a control room along with a public help line. Under the Cabinet Secretary, a National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) was created in order to make an emergency relief plan and also reviewing the different efforts undertaken, with the secretaries of important departments or ministries and the chiefs of the armed forces. Further, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of Border Management, MHA, along with the representatives of different ministries, under a joint secretary, a National Crisis Management Group was created that was entrusted the responsibility of visiting the states affected by Tsunami. The individual ministries undertook efforts that were ministry. A fund of about Rs. 2,731 crore ($627.81 million) was allocated from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), for the impacted states and union territories in India. There were several other funds that were declared.
Response from the Civil Societies and the NGOs
Private individuals, community members, and many non governmental organizations (NGOs) all across India responded brilliantly to the requirements of the states and Union Territories in India under the Tsunami reel. The Bilateral donor agencies supported the NGOs. The various agencies that functioned in different sectors ranging from psycho social counseling, health, shelter, water, education, sanitation, to livelihood and environment consisted of organizations like the CARE (India), Tamil Nadu Voluntary Health Association, World Vision India, Project Concern International, Catholic Relief Services (India), Echo, Dhan Foundation, Oxfam, League for Education and Development, and Jesuits in Social Action.
Response from the Private sector
Relief material and corporate donations on large scale were offered to the states and Union Territories in India affected by the Tsunami. As per the estimations of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the corporate sector in India contributed over $8 million of cash donations, medicine, food, relief supplies and other services. Different Indian companies, banks, insurance, business houses, medical and information technology companies as well as the public sector organizations, contributed more than Rs. 40.0 crore ($9.2 million) of money to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. Donations were also offered by these bodies to established NGOs such as CARE, Oxfam and Dhan Foundation. Fund raising measures were also undertaken by the media and sports personalities and other celebrities.
International Community response
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was deputed by the United Nations Disaster Management Team as the main point for all relief activities. UNICEF with the help of its rapid action teams sent the reports of this disaster within seventy two hours of its taking place. Many UN agencies backed the UNICEF in carrying out the relief activities. Moreover, the UNDP assisted in coordinating UN system measures for recovery and rehabilitation. The other UN agencies that participated in the Tsunami Relief Process consisted of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Labor Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Education. One UN Team was formed in Chennai for the Recovery Support.
- Environmental Impact
Almost 2,260 km of coastline was immensely affected by the tsunami, thereby causing huge damages in the coastal regions of the state of Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Pondicherry, coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The tsunami had several primary impacts on the environment. Huge amount of rubble and debris were generated thereby leading to environment pollution. There has been accretion or erosion and sedimentation of waterways and lagoons in several places alongside the coast. There has been pollution of the agricultural lands, surface and ground water resources, and also the deposition of organic deposits of the sea-bed on land. Coconut plantations and Fishery resources have been badly affected. Some of the secondary impacts of Tsunami included destructions created by temporary shelters, relief camps, and temporary structures, poor sanitation practices, changes in the land use resulting from the loss of many agricultural lands etc, increase the usage of water and chemicals during the in water and chemical usage during reconditioning and reclamation of the agricultural lands that were affected. Large amount of coastal regions were affected, through the inflow of silt and salt water. Besides, aquatic and terrestrial pollution also took place, in terms of sewage, chemical effluents and physical debris.
- Social Impact
Tsunami, the biggest natural disaster, of its kind has destroyed many communities taking a high toll of lives, causing injuries, adversely affecting families, livelihoods and homes. There have been long term problems and consequences for the affected families torn apart by injuries, disability or death, for the single parents, widows, children, orphans, etc. one of the surprising fact was that in the states and the Union territories affected by tsunami, in comparison to men, more children and women lost their lives. Most of them who were affected near the coastline were the fishermen who faced the maximum damage in case of livelihood, housing, household assets, dwelling units, and productive assets such as nets and boats. Disturbed Minds, societal problems in certain social groups, bad habits such as like drinking, psychological problems among the students, fear for sea among the children are among the post Tsunami impacts on the people and their social life.
- Economic problems
Tsunami of 2004 also resulted in some major economic issues and problems. Many people who were badly hit by this disastrous calamity never had a savings account or rather a bank account for that matter. Some people lost their main source of livelihood, their business. The fishermen lost their boats and nets. Some of the boats and other important materials were damaged. People, who were in the habit of keeping money in their houses, lost it all by the Tsunami waves. Money was required to restart the business and there lives. Basic infrastructure needed to be developed. Government aids and assistance at various levels such as finance and subsides were necessary. Most importantly, long term rehabilitation of those people affected by the Tsunami was required.
The giant tsunami that resulted in unprecedented destruction and death in the South and South-East Asia will be remembered in the pages of history as 1 among the greatest and deadliest natural disasters in the modern times. In minutes, millions of lives were put to death across the several nations worldwide; large numbers of people were rendered homeless; women became widows, children became orphans, while innumerable families were wiped out within few seconds. People affected by tsunami, till date is struggling to come out of the deadliest impacts of such a devastating natural calamity that not only affected the people but also left a long term impression on them, both physically and mentally.