Indonesian Tsunami

On December 26, 2004, an undersea earthquake with magnitude of 9.1-9.3 shifted tectonic plates in the Indian Ocean (“Case Study: Tsunami”). The emerging tsunami immediately struck the Coast of Simeulue Island, Sumatra, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Africa. The earthquake was immediately referred to as one of the strongest natural disasters in the world. The set of measures was taken to overcome devastating consequences of the tragedy. “The quake was the second strongest ever recorded and the estimated 230,000 dead made this disaster one of the 10 worst of all time” (“Tsunami Devastates Indian Ocean Coast”). The paper will discuss the background, description and consequences of Indonesian tsunami.

Background Information

Tsunami is not a single wave but a series of moving oceanic waves caused by geological faults near the bottom of the ocean or underneath. These waves cannot be stopped, and they race across the ocean like the crack of a whip, while maintaining power for thousands of miles (“Indian Ocean Tsunami: Then and Now”). Most of the tsunamis are caused by strong earthquakes, but the cause may also be landslides, volcanic eruptions, and falling meteorites. Waves rise because geological forces move water in the ocean. The stronger the earthquake is, the more the Earth’s crust shifts and the more water is set in motion. The most common form of tsunami occurs in the Pacific Ocean. During tsunamis, waves typically propagate in directions opposite to seismic shocks. In the case of the earthquake in Sumatra, seismic waves were moving across the ocean floor to the south and the north, and a tsunami moved to the west and east. The tsunami is different from the usual surf due to its enormous length and speed. One such wave can reach 185 km in length and at the same time move over the ocean at a speed of about 1,000 km per hour. When it approaches the shore, its velocity decreases sharply. The height is increased many times over. Some tsunamis resemble the tide, in which water ceases to rise and absorbs coast. The Earth’s crust in response to these movements is deformed and generates earthquakes. In general, this part of the Indian Ocean is considered very seismically active. The so-called active continental margin of the South-East Asia passes this area. Similar continental margins around the periphery of the Pacific have a very high level of seismicity.

According to Murty, Aswathanarayana, and Nirupama, tsunamis are not common in the Indian Ocean (3). The tension in the zone of interaction between the plates of Indian Ocean accumulated for hundreds of years. The reason for such a powerful tsunami was a discharge of accumulated stress in the lithosphere at the boundary of the Indian lithosphere plate and the Burma micro plate. On the day of the earthquake, maximum high tide was observed. There was a full moon.

The news of the grand tsunami shocked the world. Initially, the media have reflected only on the secondary effects, like the consequences of the earthquake in South-East Asia, which gave rise to “rogue wave”. The emerging tsunami swept the Indian Ocean, surronded by different countries. The scale of destruction was truly overwhelming. The energy of tsunami was so big that it became clear that it was a catastrophe of global proportion.

Description of Indonesian Tsunami

The emerging tsunami immediately collapsed on the coast nearest to the epicenter of the island of Simeulue and Sumatra. The water rolled up to 20 meters high in some places, penetrating inland for a dozen kilometers. About an hour later, propagating with the speed of a jet airliner, shock wave reached the south-west coast of Thailand. Half an hour later, the tsunami dealt a blow to Sri Lanka and later spread to the coast of Africa, killing hundreds of people in Somalia (Shaw 5). In Indonesia, the tsunami destroyed more than 140 million homes, 120 kilometers of roads, and 18 bridges. Even in the month after the start of the dismantling of the ruins in Aceh, thousands of corpses were found daily. The total number of victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Aceh has reached about 230 thousand people (“Case Study: Tsunami”). Many mothers experienced the loss of their children (Torres 4).

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Rofi and Robinson state that, “The problems that the tsunami-affected population faces are multifaceted and include loss of family members, loss of homes, assets, livelihoods and community infrastructure, displacement and relocation in temporary homes and shelters” (340). Along with human losses, the tsunami caused a number of economic effects. It negatively affected jobs and the economy. Many ports were ruined. By destroying nets, boats, and fishing equipment, the tsunami destroyed the fishing industry. The reconstruction of caused wastage cost billions of dollars. The communication system (roads, rail networks, bridges) was seriously damaged. The highest economic loss was experienced by the loss of tourism earnings.  Therefore, according to Shaw, hundreds of thousands people were put into the deepest poverty as a result of the economic impact of the tsunami (5).

Tsunami had a detrimental environmental effect on Indonesia. It destroyed crops. Salt water ruined farm land. Indonesian tsunami resulted in oil escaping from oil plants. Along the coast, mangrove forests were destroyed. The tsunami damaged coral reefs and coastal wetlands.

Shaw states that the reconstruction of the consequences of this disaster has posed a great challenge to governments, professionals, international communities, civil societies, and practitioners, who combined their different experiences to overcome the disastrous effects (5). Non-governmental organizations and authorities had immediate responses to the devastation. These responses included search for people and their rescue. Also, the authorities supported people with emergency water and food. People, who suffered from tsunami, received medical care and temporary shelter. The authorities contributed the re-establishment of infrastructure and communications. Secondary responses included rebuilding and improving housing and infrastructure. In addition, the efforts were focused on providing jobs and assisting small business. Psychological suppoort included giving advice. Moreover, the government created a system of technical assistance.

The responses to Indonesian tsunami can be divided into long term and short term. In many Indonesian areas, local communities had to assist themselves as they were cut off. The authorities contributed to quick burning and burial of the dead in order to prevent the disease from spreading. Millions of people received food aid. Long-term responses included reconstruction that still takes place. The authorities rebuild the areas after the damages.

Consequences of Indonesian Tsunami

Tsunami was an important lesson for the province of Aceh, which for nearly 30 years has been the scene of an armed conflict. Efforts to end the conflict resumed after the tsunami. That led to a peace agreement between the government and the rebels. Indonesian tsunami was especially destructive because the earthquake that caused it reached the magnitude of 9 (“Case Study: Tsunami”). Moreover, the epicenter of tsunami was too close to densely populated coastal communities. Tsunami prediction problem is solved in a scientific sense. Practically, it is a purely technical problem. However, the precautions have not been made in the Indian Ocean. The authorities could not even imagine the possibility of such a strong earthquake occuring. Therefore, a tsunami prediction system has not been established. For this reason, Indonesia had an unprecedented number of victims. People were not warned about possible disaster. The single sign of tsunami approaching was the retreating waterline and exposed seabed and beach.

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Thus, the issue that surfaced as a result of tsunami was the fact that the appearance of waves was a surprise and no one had time to prepare for it properly. Indonesia had no tsunami warning systems. That is why in 2006, a system of early tsunami warning has been established in the Indian Ocean. This could save people’s lives in other countries. Many countries that surround the Indian Ocean are less developed. These countries are not wealthy and have low standards of education and health. Therefore, they simply cannot afford spending money on tsunami prevention and preparation.

Another lesson that can be learned from the disaster is the need to develop a natural protection system. In Indonesia, in the coastal areas, tropical evergreen forests that usually contribute to the protection of coastal zones had been removed in order to create opportunities for tourism development. As a result, there was a low level of natural protection.


The 2004 tsunami was a great disaster. It directly impacted Indian Ocean coastlines. The losses of livelihoods, property, and people’s lives were horrific. However, it had taught people a lot of things. First of all, the main lesson is related to its response both in terms of government assistance and the support form nations and individuals. The tsunami of 2004 showed humanity the dangers of nature. It would take decades of years to recover from the losses of livelihoods as well as eliminate the negative consequences of the disaster.

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