When the Sea Came Home

Dec 29th, 2014 | By | Category: India, Weather

Ten years cannot wipe out memories of the wall of water that wrecked human life and property, with Banda Aceh on the Sumatran coast bearing the brunt of the earthquake and a series of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean region in 2004. The death of loved ones and the loss of livelihoods and homes still haunt survivors in 14 countries, and the world continues to grapple with the magnitude of the event that was only overtaken a few years ago by the tsunami-earthquake combination that hit Japan and caused a meltdown in some nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Residents of Banda Aceh rebuilt their lives, and in India too, which lost over 10,000 people to the calamity, rehabilitation has been an ongoing engagement. India set up a warning system in 2005 and upgraded it to a state-of-the-art Indian Tsunami Early Warning System two years later at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services in Hyderabad. It has the capability to issue tsunami bulletins within 10 minutes of a major earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

Advance warning is as important as disaster preparedness for calamities of such magnitude. Odisha learnt a lesson from the super cyclone in 1999, but earlier this year cyclone Hudhud devastated the coastal city of Visakhapatnam which, ironically, is one of the two cities in the country gearing up for a pilot climate-resilient plan. Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and the Ministry of Environment had said there would be a high likelihood of the intensity of cyclonic events increasing on the eastern coast of India. A working paper on coastal cities prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute says it is highly pertinent to start climate-proofing infrastructure and services and to assess sea-level rise, combined with other factors such as storm surges, cyclones and changes in precipitation patterns. According to the IPCC, the coastal areas face multiple risks related to climate change and variability. India has 130 towns and cities in 84 coastal districts, and according to the Planning Commission the rise in sea level has been in the range of 1.06 to 1.75 mm a year over the past century. The latest report by the World Meteorological Organization says that in early 2014, global-average measured sea-level reached a record high for the time of the year. The meltdown at Fukushima prompted reactor design changes, and with each devastating incident the world gains fresh knowledge in hindsight. But that may not be enough to save humanity from the intensity of recurring calamities. Science is quite firm that extreme events will increase over the years, making anticipation and preparation imperative. That is the least that countries can do to save their populations from devastation.

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