Tsunami Hits Pacific Islands
October 7, 2009
Its clear blue waters, lush greenery, and sunny skies provide a tranquil setting for daily life in the many islands of the South Pacific. However, this natural beauty can be deceiving – the Pacific Island Nations are prone to some of the world’s worst natural hazards – cyclones, tsunamis, droughts, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
I first received reports that a magnitude 8.3 earthquake had struck the region of the Samoa Islands on the morning of Tuesday, September 29, when I got an early call from a colleague in Washington, D.C. For this small island nation with an estimated population of 158,000, the earthquake had triggered a tsunami that killed 142 people, with others still missing. The Samoan Red Cross estimates that 3,500 people are under temporary shelter, with many others staying with relatives. The Samoan government’s current estimate of damage to infrastructure, public, and private properties is around $142 million.
After consulting with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) office, I set about contacting the national disaster managers in the countries issued with tsunami warnings as listed by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. Reaching Samoa was the most critical, as they were in the thick of evacuating people as destructive waves battered the island. Cook Islands reported only minor impact from the tsunami, Tonga was unreachable, and Fiji was activating its tsunami response plan with public warnings reaching the communities through radio, TV, and mobile phone networks. In Fiji, the Ministry of Education closed all schools in low-lying, coastal areas.
For The Asia Foundation, this catastrophic event was a real-time test. Since 1995, with USAID/OFDA support, we have conducted the longest-running disaster management training programs in the Pacific. The strength and credibility of the training courses are well-known in the region, and many groups have adopted procedures from these trainings into national operational procedures and arrangements to better prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. Since participants who have undergone training work within key response agencies and organizations, they are well positioned to implement effective response to such events as well as improve and modify disaster plans in accordance with their country’s needs.
Both the Secretary-General of the Samoa Red Cross Society and the Commissioner of the Samoa Fire and Emergency Services Authority have been trained under The Asia Foundation and USAID/OFDA program, as have the Directors of the national disaster management offices in Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, and Fiji. In Samoa, the Director of the Disaster Management Office, the Commissioner of Fire and Emergency Services, and the Secretary General of the Red Cross put their effective management skills to great use during this catastrophic event resulting in rapid and effective response.
Today, eight days later, the focus is on recovering from the tsunami and rebuilding and rehabilitating communities affected.
Over the last several years, our affiliate organization, Give2Asia, has worked to identify local and regional organizations in Asia that need private funding to carry out important social and humanitarian work – oftentimes disaster recovery. We worked particularly closely following the disastrous 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, sending more than $7 million in support, and more recently to send support totaling $14 million following the devastating 2008 China earthquake. Now, with the typhoon season beginning in the Pacific Ocean, the Foundation’s network of 18 offices throughout Asia is able to provide immediate information about which local organizations need help to bring longer-term recovery.
Kathryn Hawley is The Asia Foundation’s Program Director for the USAID/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) Pacific Disaster Risk Management Program and is based in Fiji.
About our blog, In AsiaIn Asia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, In Asia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
In Asia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to email@example.com.
ContactFor questions about In Asia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
HIGHLIGHTS ACROSS ASIA
The State of Conflict and Violence in Asia: Five Surprising Takeaways
October 18, 2017
The Asia Foundation Releases New Report on Armed Conflict, Aid, and Development in Myanmar
October 17, 2017
2017 Lotus Leadership Awards in New York City Honor Amartya Sen and Henry Luce Foundation
October 16, 2017
Thomson Reuters Highlights New Conflict Report
October 13, 2017