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Development and DisastersEssay

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Tsunami 2004

In the morning of December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean plate was subducted by the Burma plate, unleashing an earthquake underneath of the Indian Ocean that has been estimated at 9.2, the third most-intense earthquake ever recorded (Tsunami2004.net, 2014). As a result of this earthquake, tsunamis were created, and they struck the Indian Ocean coastline of Asia. The tsunamis hit the countries of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand the hardest. These nations are all heavily-populated regions, with many people living near the ocean. As a consequence the death toll and infrastructure destruction were incredible, with the total death toll estimated around 230,000 people (Tsunami2004.net, 2014). Most of the dead were on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where an estimated 167,000 were killed (Tsunami2004.net, 2014). This paper will explore the tsunami with respect to human development in these areas, both before and after the tsunami, as differences in development patterns affected both the damage that the tsunami caused on the reconstruction efforts afterwards.

Key Terms and Definitions

The disaster in this paper is the tsunami that hit the affected countries, not the earthquake itself, which by way of being underwater did not do much damage on its own. Development is a term difficult to pin down, but in this context refers specifically to the patters of human settlement, and the development of the infrastructure that supported that settlement. This definition has been used in the context of sustainable development (UN, 1996). An alternate definition incorporates the social: "a vision of the liberation of people" (Gore, 2000). Both the real estate-focused understanding of the word and the alternate definition are taken into consideration.

Theoretical Frameworks

The United Nations has examined the role that development has played in the risk posed by the tsunami, focusing in particular on human migration (Naik, Stigter & Laczko, 2007). In all of the affected areas, humans have lived for millennia, but never in the numbers that we see today. Some of the rapid increases in population have been organic, but some of the increases were related to migration. This is especially the case in Thailand, where tourism has led to substantial development and population increases in some of the affected areas, and in Indonesia, where the coastal city of Banda Aceh was hit, resulting is most of the casualties (Tsunami2004, 2014). Banda Aceh, like many cities in Indonesia, had seen rapid and largely unregulated population growth, with poor physical infrastructure that left a large part of the city's population vulnerable to disaster (Nurdin, 2006).

The main framework used by the United Nations is to examine the patterns of migration that put so many people in harm's way (Naik, Stigter & Laczko, 2007). The flow is that migration occurs to these regions, then the disaster hits, and there is a short-run migration out of the region, followed by a return of people to the region ((Naik, Stigter & Laczko, 2007). Rebuilding in particular is a source of employment that can be expected to draw people back into the affected regions. Indeed, Banda Aceh's population rebounded quickly (Fakhrurazzi, 2010).

Another way of looking at the issue differentiates between the type of development. While 75% of the world's population lives at risk of natural disaster, only 11% of the population lives in nations with low human development, and they account for 53% of disaster fatalities (UNDP, 2004). The primary driver of this is that most low development nations have very little in terms of disaster risk management embedded into their development. The quality of building is often low, there are no warning systems and place, and no standards enforced that would reduce the overall risk. In Banda Aceh, open conflict had limited infrastructure building and the city was already prone to flooding during heavy rains, let alone a tsunami (Nurdin, 2006).

Evaluation of Development

It is worth juxtaposing the development in Banda Aceh with the development in Phuket, the heavily-populated Thai island that was also hit with a tsunami, but which suffered considerably fewer fatalities. There are two elements to development that are worth considering in Thailand. The first is that for as much destruction as hit Phuket, it was not as severe as other areas, and casualties were fewer than in provinces to the north. Phuket's buildings are built to the standards of Western tourists, and this provided better security against the tsunami than would traditional dwellings.

The other factor, however, is that development affects the ecosystem's natural barriers against tsunami damage. Thailand's environmental protections are generally weak, and as a result development patterns tend to lack ecological sensitivity. Mangroves in particular form a buffer against rough seas, including tsunamis. An UNEP report following the tsunami highlighted that villages that had left their mangrove ecosystems intact faced substantially less death and destruction as the result of the tsunami, compared with areas where the mangroves had been removed to facilitate development (UNEP, 2005).

There is mixed evidence, however, about the role of mangroves overall. It was found that in many areas, mangroves were intact but provided little protection, so the role of mangroves is not absolute. What is more likely, however, is that without mangroves there are no potential buffers to tsunami. It is also believed that intact seagrass beds also provide some buffer against tsunamis, but their effects are not fully known. Thus, it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion that mangrove destruction contributed to the destruction in Banda Aceh (Cochard, et al., 2008).

Other models have shown definitively that urban areas offer little protection against tsunamis, relative to forest areas. This may well be dependent on the type of construction materials used, but developed areas are more vulnerable to damage from tsunamis, and it is known that the natural vegetation of Banda Aceh was removed in the development of that urban area (Iverson & Prasad, 2007). Insufficient forest cover remained to provide any real buffer, and the devastation in the city makes that clear.

Post-Tsunami Development

Phuket was rebuilt more or less within a year. The development pattern there did not change -- many landowners were engaged in the tourist trade and therefore had considerable interest in rebuilding on their properties as quickly as possible. Real estate values, which plummeted after the tsunami, have increased 14% per year since that point (Bangkok Post, 2014). On the island's west coast, where the tsunami hit, real estate values have grown spectacularly and outwards signs of the tsunami are today minimal and resort property areas have in particular returned to much the same patterns of growth as existed before the tsunami (Bangkok Post, 2014)

After the tsunami, removal of damage and restoration of the urban landscape became a priority. There were also funds available for restoration of natural areas such as mangroves and reefs that were damaged (UNEP, 2005). After initial issues getting reconstruction of Aceh going, the pace of reconstruction picked up in 2006 (Steinberg, 2007). The theory was that the rebuilt city would reflect smarter principles of community-driven development (Steinberg, 2007).

In Aceh, without the benefit of tourism money, development post-tsunami has followed a different path than development pre-tsunami. One of the first steps was land reform, improving property rights for women and the poor (Bell, 2011). Land title rights operated with a dual system featuring both modern and traditional property rights regimes, and it was necessary to overhaul this system to instill more control over the reconstruction process than was possible before the tsunami (Bell, 2011). Local participation and community ownership were critical to the redevelopment efforts in Banda Aceh (Bradford & Osman, 2009).

In the wake of the reconstruction, people have flowed back into Banda Aceh. The reconstruction has generally been successful, including the land rights reforms. But there are still concerns about the rebuilding effort. Studies have indicated that the tsunami held a lot of strength up until a point 3km inland (Lavigne, et al., 2009), but the reconstruction of Banda Aceh has not recognized that line as a safe line, so there is still a significant population at risk. Built up areas have increased significant during the reconstruction but there has not been a corresponding increase in vegetation restoration (Achmad, 2013).

Thus, we see that reconstruction has not made any significant gains in terms of resilience. One of the major steps in preventing such damage from future tsunamis would be installing natural barriers along the coast, particularly in areas where Banda Aceh is most vulnerable (UNEP, 2005). Both mangroves and seagrass beds would be beneficial, but a forest line along the coast would also help (UNEP, 2005). The good news is that climate change is irrelevant to the discussion of tsunamis but the bad news is that the fault is still there. The reconstruction pattern is therefore still not in line with what is needed to prevent a similar disaster in the future (Achmad, 2013). The population of Banda Aceh has rebounded entirely at this point, and yet little has been done to mitigate the risks, even though the risks are known… [END OF PREVIEW]

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