Catastrophes from tsunamis are not as haphazard as some people think. Women, children and elders in developing countries, for example, perish or suffer trauma disproportionately more than others. Faced with only minutes to evacuate coastal areas, they are least likely to have a nearby place of refuge, a means to get there, or enough time to reach high ground. This can change.
Why the disparity in survival? Studies of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami identified factors unique to these groups. When the tsunami struck, women spent time collecting or rescuing children and elders. Cultural clothing such as long skirts impeded many. Even on their own, women, children and elders were least able to outrun or outlast the tsunami, swim, or climb trees. After the tsunami, outnumbered female survivors faced a heightened risk of sexual violence and pressure to marry young. Many female midwives and health workers had died, leaving a void in critical maternity care, pediatric care and medication.
Traffic jam during 2007 tsunamic evacuation in Padang, Indonesia. Photo: Abdul Muhari
GeoHazards International and Kornberg Associates have developed the concept of tsunami evacuation parks that may help to improve tsunami survival for everyone. Each of these man-made hills would be topped with a park and built near homes and schools. Designed to withstand earthquake and tsunami forces, the elevated parks offer an innovative solution for the world’s many densely populated, flat coastal cities that lack sufficient refuge. Thousands of women, the children and elderly in their care, and schoolchildren could easily and quickly walk to safety. Routes of access would be well known because residents would use the parks daily.
Visit our Tsunami Resource page for links to articles about tsunamis and survival. Many thanks to the International Tsunami Information Center (http://itic.ioc-unesco.org) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (http://www.cred.be/).