When it comes to tsunamis, no other country in the world can share its lessons learned and experience in mitigating the lethal waves better than Indonesia. Home to the second longest coastline in the world and sitting on the tumultuous Pacific Rim, the archipelagic nation offers a perfect laboratory of learning and knowledge for tsunami handling.

But did you know that Indonesia has developed digital technology that could monitor developing situations? Can you guess how many earthquakes Indonesia experience on any given day? And why you should never ignore the wise words from your elders?

Marking World Tsunami Awareness Day on 5 November, here are some interesting dimensions regarding tsunamis in Indonesia.

1. Record Breaking

Indonesia has experienced some of the strongest earthquakes and tsunamis in modern history. The record so far goes to the 26 December 2004 tsunami. The 9.1 magnitude earthquake which hit Indonesia’s Aceh and several other neighbouring countries in 2004 was the world’s third largest with over 200,000 killed. It was Indonesia’s largest in modern history. The magnitude of the tsunami was so immense that waves up to 10 metres high were reported in parts of Thailand and Sri Lanka. The reach was so vast, with waves close to 9 meters high seen in the coastal town of Bandarbeyla, Somalia in East Africa, around 5,000 km away from the epicentre.

2. A Daily Occurrence

Indonesia has experienced 670 earthquakes this past year although the majority of these have been under 5.5 magnitude. In the 48 hours before World Tsunami Awareness Day 2020 alone, the country was hit by at least three earthquakes under 5.5 magnitude.

3. Local Wisdom is Power

Some coastal communities in Indonesia are imbued with local wisdom on how to say safe during the tsunamis. In 2004, when the residents of Simeule Island, near Sumatra felt the earthquake and saw the tide pull back, they recalled ancient fables passed down to generations about tsunamis that battered the communities. The stories, peppered with advice to stay safe on higher ground whenever they see a sudden movement of tides following strong earthquakes, helped them. Local wisdom is strong here — and it has saved lives.

4. There’s an App for That?

Now, internet savvy Indonesians can download the “InaRISK” app –developed with UNDP’s assistance - and informs users of imminent risks of impending natural disasters. Developed by the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) – which was established four years after the 2004 tsunami., UNDP has helped by drafting guidelines on rehabilitation and reconstruction, providing post-disaster assessment capacity and sharing best practices to implement rehabilitation and reconstruction on disaster risk reduction. UNDP, along with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), the Ministry of Education and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has also developed a mobile app, STEP-A, to assess the preparedness level of the school, as well as a guide which shows school administrators how to prepare for, and respond to, a tsunami.

5. Cool for School!

Ask any school child in the coastal areas of Indonesia and you’d be pressed to find those who are not well equipped with the know-how on the steps to take to save themselves in the event of earthquakes and tsunamis. It goes without saying that such knowledge is crucial considering there are 3,900 schools across Indonesia located in tsunami prone areas, according to the UNDP supported Indonesia Disaster Data and Information (DIBI). Indonesia is among 18 countries to participate in UNDP’s regional project “Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia-Pacific Region” that contributes to the achievement of the Sendai Framework’s seven targets to reduce lives lost, numbers of people affected, and economic damage from natural and human-induced hazards.

6. Moving Mudflow

While the earthquake in Central Sulawesi in 2018 caused much death and destruction, many lives were lost to a natural phenomenon called liquefaction, where loose mud becomes water clogged and, causing the ground to be unstable and sink. As a result, structures that are built on it lose support and cave in. This is the first time the phenomenon occurred in Indonesia, although a similar outcome was seen in San Francisco, USA over a century ago. UNDP Indonesia has developed the Programme for Earthquake and Tsunami Infrastructure Reconstruction Assistance (PETRA) in 2018, with financial assistance from Germany’s Development Bank, KfW, and has been working on rehabilitation efforts in Indonesia’s provinces of Central Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara and ‘build back better and safer’ the areas to future shocks in the area.

7. Golden Time

15 – 30 minutes. That’s the ‘golden time’ for schools in Aceh province in Sumatra island to save evacuate their students. Aceh Province is among the most vulnerable areas and has as many as 457 schools in high tsunami risk zones. Given its location on several tectonic plates, the “golden time” in Aceh is 15-30 minutes for schools to evacuate their students after a tsunami warning is issued.


Quick Facts: 

- The word "tsunami" comprises the Japanese words "tsu" (meaning harbour) and "nami" (meaning wave). A tsunami is a series of enormous waves created by an underwater disturbance usually associated with earthquakes occurring below or near the ocean.

- Volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, and coastal rock falls can also generate a tsunami, as can a large asteroid impacting the ocean. They originate from a vertical movement of the sea floor with the consequent displacement of water mass.

- Tsunami waves often look like walls of water and can attack the shoreline and be dangerous for hours, with waves coming every 5 to 60 minutes.

- The first wave may not be the largest, and often it is the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or even later waves that are the biggest. After one wave inundates, or floods inland, it recedes seaward often as far as a person can see, so the seafloor is exposed. The next wave then rushes ashore within minutes and carries with it many floating debris that were destroyed by previous waves. (source: un.org)  


Writing by Ranjit Jose, Edited by Tomi Soetjipto and Andrys Erawan.


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