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IMA > News  > World Tsunami Awareness Day 2023: Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future

World Tsunami Awareness Day 2023: Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future

By Christopher Alexis, Oceanography & Coastal Processes Department

Annually, the 5th November is celebrated as World Tsunami Awareness Day (WTAD). Events, activities and drills are organised globally, as a reminder of the ever-present threat of tsunamis. This is especially important where the frequency and intensity of natural disasters are increasing and impacting coastal communities. The theme of WTAD 2023 is “Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future”. 

A Global Call to Action

The United Nations highlights the global need for preparedness, such as early warning systems and disaster risk reduction strategies. Tsunamis may be caused by an underwater earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption and on rare occasions, by giant meteor impact with the ocean. These waves can reach heights of over 30 m and pose a severe threat to coastal communities worldwide. They strike with little warning, leaving only destruction. Events such as those that occurred in Indonesia 2018, Chile 2014, Solomon Islands 2013 and Japan 2011 are but a few instances in recent history. 

This annual observance aims to foster cooperation among governments, organisations, and communities to enhance preparedness and reduce the loss of life and property. The impact of tsunamis highlights the inequality within coastal communities where the vulnerable sections of society are most affected. WTAD 2023 activities will focus on raising awareness about the underlying disaster risk drivers – poverty, inequality and vulnerability – that make tsunamis more deadly for those most at risk. 

The Importance of Preparedness

These waves travel at remarkable speeds; therefore, early detection and rapid response are essential to survival. Preparedness measures include the installation of warning systems, educating communities about evacuation procedures, and creating resilient infrastructure to withstand the impact of tsunamis. Large tsunamis are significant threats to human health, property, infrastructure, resources, and economies. The effects can be long-lasting, felt far beyond the coastline for many years.

Global Initiatives

Many countries, including Japan, have invested in tsunami warning systems that combine seismometers, oceanography buoys, and sirens to provide alerts. These systems have proven instrumental in saving lives during tsunami events by reducing inequality and increasing resilience. 

Local context

The Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE-EWS) is supplied with information from the University of the West Indies, Seismic Research Centre. Additionally, the National Tsunami Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Trinidad and Tobago, that inform the development of Community Tsunami Protocols and Guidelines, was last updated in 2019 when discussions with several stakeholders were held by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management.  

The Role of Education

Education is the basis of tsunami preparedness. Raising awareness about the warning signs and evacuation procedures (as at Maracas Bay – signage and Carenage – signage and evacuation maps) is crucial for at-risk communities. All members of the coastal communities must understand the dangers posed by tsunamis and be aware of the safety measures to follow.

Tsunami At Maracas Beach, Trinidad, 2005. Photo and imag courtesy: Cuthbert Jolly

A Call to Action

World Tsunami Awareness Day is a call to action, urging governments, organisations, and communities to prioritise preparedness, reduce inequality and increase resilience. Although tsunamis are unavoidable, their impact may be reduced by quick and effective response to warnings.

In a world vulnerable to natural disasters, World Tsunami Awareness Day serves as a reminder that we have the power to protect lives and livelihoods lies in our collective commitment to be prepared, reduce inequality and increase resilience. Together, we can ensure that communities along our coastlines are safer and better equipped to face the unpredictable forces of the sea. 

Here are some suggested ways that inequality can be reduced among societal groups:

  • Differently abled persons: flags can be used for the hearing impaired as they would not be able to hear the sirens; evacuation routes should be accessible to those with walking impairments; first responders should be trained to use sign language
  • Women: should be comfortable and safe to go to shelters
  • Youth and children: teachers/schools should have regular tsunami drills
  • Elderly: able-bodied persons should assist the elderly
  • Migrants: warning messages should be in relevant languages  

As World Tsunami Day approaches, the IMA would like to remind everyone of the procedure in the event of a tsunami warning:

  • Get to high ground as far inland as possible 
  • Be alert to signs of a tsunami, such as a sudden rise or recession of ocean waters 
  • Listen to emergency information and alerts 
  • Always follow the instructions from local emergency managers.

As part of WTAD and the Tsunami Ready programme by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC UNESCO Tsunami Ready programme), support for the #GetToHighGround initiative, accelerates action on early warning systems for tsunamis and encourages partners to raise awareness of tsunami risk by organising a drill, fun run or walk of their tsunami evacuation route to #GetToHighGround. 

The concept is to engage citizens, raise awareness of tsunami and coastal risk, and tailor local actions. 

The #GetToHighGround campaign can be accessed by: WTAD webpage: featuring an explainer video, good practices and key information for 2023.