Tsunami Awareness Day: Risk Reduction Strategies

Tsunami Awareness Day: Risk Reduction Strategies
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In 2020, World Tsunami Awareness Day encourages the development of national and community-level, local disaster risk reduction strategies to save more lives against disasters. This year’s observance promotes ‘Sendai Seven Campaign’.

By the year 2030, an estimated 50 per cent of the world's population will live in coastal areas exposed to flooding, storms and tsunamis. Having plans and policies in place to reduce tsunami impacts will help to build more resilience and protect populations at risk.

In December 2015, the UN General Assembly designated 5 November as World Tsunami Awareness Day, calling on countries, international bodies and civil society to raise tsunami awareness and share innovative approaches to risk reduction.

World Tsunami Awareness Day was the brainchild of Japan, which due to its repeated, bitter experience has over the years built up major expertise in areas such as tsunami early warning, public action and building back better after a disaster to reduce future impacts. UN Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) facilitates the observance of World Tsunami Awareness Day in collaboration with the rest of the United Nations system.

Tsunamis are rare events but can be extremely deadly. In the past 100 years, 58 of them have claimed more than 260,000 lives, or an average of 4,600 per disaster, surpassing any other natural hazard. The highest number of deaths in that period was in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. It caused an estimated 227,000 fatalities in 14 countries, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand hardest-hit.

Just three weeks after that the international community came together in Kobe, in Japan’s Hyogo region. Governments adopted the 10-year Hyogo Framework for Action, the first comprehensive global agreement on disaster risk reduction.

They also created the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, which boasts scores of seismographic and sea-level monitoring stations and disseminates alerts to national tsunami information centres.

Rapid urbanization and growing tourism in tsunami-prone regions are putting ever-more people in harm’s way. That makes the reduction of risk a key factor if the world is to achieve substantial reductions in disaster mortality- a primary goal of the Sendai Framework, the 15-year international agreement adopted in March 2015 to succeed the Hyogo Framework.

What are Tsunamis?

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.

Causes of Tsunamis


It can be generated by movements along fault zones associated with plate boundaries.

Most strong earthquakes occur in subduction zones where an ocean plate slides under a continental plate or another younger ocean plate.

All earthquakes do not cause tsunamis. There are four conditions necessary for an earthquake to cause a tsunami:

1. The earthquake must occur beneath the ocean or cause material to slide into the ocean.

2. The earthquake must be strong, at least magnitude6.5 on the Richter Scale

3. The earthquake must rupture the Earth’s surface and it must occur at shallow depth – less than 70km below the surface of the Earth.

4. The earthquake must cause vertical movement of the sea floor (up to several metres).


A landslide which occurs along the coast can force large amounts of water into the sea, disturbing the water and generate a tsunami. Underwater landslides can also result in tsunamis when the material loosened by the landslide moves violently, pushing the water in front of it.

Volcanic Eruptions

Although relatively infrequent, violent volcanic eruptions also represent impulsive disturbances, which can displace a great volume of water and generate extremely destructive tsunami waves in the immediate source area.

One of the largest and most destructive tsunamis ever recorded was generated in August 26, 1883 after the explosion and collapse of the volcano of Krakatoa (Krakatau), in Indonesia. This explosion generated waves that reached 135 feet, destroyed coastal towns and villages along the Sunda Strait in both the islands of Java and Sumatra, killing 36,417 people.

Extra-Terrestrial Collisions

Tsunamis caused by extra-terrestrial collision (i.e. asteroids, meteors) are an extremely rare occurrence. Although no meteor/asteroid-induced tsunamis have been recorded in recent history, scientists realize that if these celestial bodies should strike the ocean, a large volume of water would undoubtedly be displaced to cause a tsunami.

Reflecting Japan’s long history of disaster experience and commitment to DRR (Cabinet Office 2015) all three world conferences on disasters were held in Japan.

The 1st World Conference on Natural Disasters in Yokohama (1994) led to the Yokohama Strategy (IDNDR 1994).

The 2nd World Conference on Disaster Reduction (2005) in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, 10 years after the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, resulted in the Hyogo Framework.

The 3rd World Conference on Disaster Reduction (2015) in Sendai followed years of devastating disasters including: earthquakes in Gujarat (2001), Bam (2003), Kashmir (2005), Sichuan (2008), and Haiti (2010); Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (2008); and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean (2004) and after the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011).

In response to this overwhelming damage and with the mission to actively reduce future losses, the SFDRR builds on previous DRR guidelines while departing from them in several significant aspects:

(1) The SFDRR focuses on practical and measurable outcomes for reducing disaster losses, including indicators to measure progress towards seven specific global targets.

(2) The SFDRR strongly emphasizes a localized and people-centred approach and inclusivity of all people in disaster prevention and response processes, with sensitivity to gender, age, (dis)ability, and indigenous and vulnerable populations.

(3) The SFDRR supports crosscutting issues and mainstreaming DRR and an approach that links disaster prevention, response, recovery, and development needs.

(4) The idea of resilience in recovery features prominently in Priority 4, with a call to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.

 (5) The SFDRR specifically mentions several key issues: climate change and development; education and health; and biological and technological disasters, as well as disasters resulting from natural hazard events.

The seven global targets of the SFDRR, including numerical goals and timelines for achievement, can be summarized as follows:

  1. Substantially reduce global disaster mortality;
  2. Substantially reduce the number of affected people globally;
  3. Reduce direct disaster economic loss;
  4. Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities;
  5. Substantially increase the number of countries with disaster risk reduction strategies;
  6. Substantially enhance international cooperation with developing countries;
  7. Substantially increase the availability of, and access to, multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people (UNISDR 2015).

Towards these seven targets, the SFDRR includes four priorities for action:

Priority 1: Understanding disaster risk;

Priority 2: Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk;

Priority 3: Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience;

Priority 4: Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction (UNISDR 2015).

Emphasizing people-centred and community-based approaches, the Sendai Framework represents a significant shift toward an inclusive all-of-society perspective that recognizes the importance of awareness of the needs of society’s poorest members, along with integrating “a gender, age, disability and cultural perspective in all policies and practices” (UNISDR 2015, p. 13).

Building on previous guidelines, the SFDRR reflects new approaches and roles for practical disaster science to reduce risks in quantifiable ways with objective targets.