Ten years after 2004 disaster, Africa's Indian Ocean nations test tsunami readiness

Furthest recorded deaths were in South Africa, 800km from the epicentre of the 2004 tsunami

Tsunami's, like this one photographed, have caused thousands of fatalities and cause a high amount of destruction to Indian Ocean nations (Photo: Gabriel Andrés Trujillo)

Tsunami's, like this one photographed, have caused thousands of fatalities and cause a high amount of destruction to Indian Ocean nations (Photo: Gabriel Andrés Trujillo)

AFRICA’S Indian Ocean nations and other countries from around the Indian Ocean Rim will take part in mock tsunami scenarios on Wednesday. Dubbed ‘Indian Ocean Wave 2014’ or “IOwave14”, the exercise is meant to increase preparedness, evaluate each country’s response capabilities and improve regional coordination. 

These exercises are important for Africa’s East and southern nations that have been severely affected in the past by tsunamis. Since 1900three major tsunamis—which is a seismic sea wave usually caused by a major disruption such as an earthquake—have hit Africa, each affecting up to 11 countries, causing over 1,000 deaths and major economic destruction. 

The largest tsunami to affect Africa took place on December 26, 2004 and was the largest ever recorded in the Indian Ocean, triggered by a 9.2 magnitude earthquake—the third largest in 100 years. Even though its epicentre was in Indonesia, the furthest recorded deaths were 800 kilometres away in Rooi Els, South Africa.  

Somalia was the most affected country on the African coast: the energy from the wave washed away approximately 400 people, mostly from the Puntland region. Other countries affected include the Maldives, Seychelles, Kenya,  Madagascar, Tanzania, Comoros, Mauritius and Mozambique.

The 2004 tsunami highlighted the need for Africa to to be better prepared. Today there are 26 national tsunami information centres set up in Indian Ocean countries, capable of receiving and distributing tsunami warnings. There are also three Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) sensors and other such equipment such as satellites that contribute data from seismographic stations.

Since 2004 there have been two other simulation exercises - “IOWAVE 09” and “IOWAVE 11”. The simulations are designed to test procedures of the Indian Ocean tsunami warning and mitigation system and help identify operational strengths and weaknesses. 

This week’s exercise will comprise two scenarios: the first simulates an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 south of Java, Indonesia; the second simulates an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 in the Makran Trench south of Iran and Pakistan.

“The goal is to measure the capacity and response times of the various stakeholders involved to address such rare but potentially destructive events,” stated a press release from UNESCO.

The countries participating in the test are; Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, La Réunion (France), India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Yemen.

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