World Tsunami Awareness Day

Human Wrongs Watch

“Risk reduction will be crucial to our efforts to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. On World Tsunami Awareness Day, I encourage governments, local authorities and the construction industry to pursue risk-informed development and invest in resilience.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

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.



In December 2015, the UN General Assembly designated 5 November as World Tsunami Awareness Day.

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.

The date for the annual celebration was chosen in honour of the Japanese story of “Inamura-no-hi”, meaning the “burning of the rice sheaves”. During an 1854 earthquake a farmer saw the tide receding, a sign of a looming tsunami. He set fire to his entire harvest to warn villagers, who fled to high ground. Afterwards, he built an embankment and planted trees as a buffer against future waves.

The UN General Assembly has called on all countries, international bodies and civil society to observe the day, in order to raise tsunami awareness and share innovative approaches to risk reduction. It also asked the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to facilitate the observance of World Tsunami Awareness Day in collaboration with the rest of the United Nations system.

In 2019, World Tsunami Awareness Day promotes Target (d) of the “Sendai Seven Campaign,” which focuses on reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services.

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.

Investing in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems, and education is critical to saving people and protecting their assets against tsunami risk in the future. *(SOURCE: United Nations).

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.


What are the 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 Eruption

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.

Extraterrestrial Collision

Tsunamis caused by extraterrestrial 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.

What to do?

To find out more about tsunamis and their warning signs visit the Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Center. **(SOURCE: United Nations).

UN Secretary General on World Day


This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, when 230,000 lives were tragically lost in 14 countries. Since then, we have seen great improvement in early warning systems, not only for the Pacific Ocean but also for the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, the North East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and others. As a result, many lives have been saved.***However, it is clear from the growing economic losses over the last twenty years that we have not yet fully learned the importance of disaster-proofing critical infrastructure. This is essential to avoid the disruption to important public services that can occur during tsunamis, earthquakes and extreme weather events.

The risks remain immense. An estimated 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones; by 2050, this number might surpass 1 billion. At the same time, rising sea levels caused by the climate emergency may further exacerbate the destructive power of tsunamis.

Risk reduction will be crucial to our efforts to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. On World Tsunami Awareness Day, I encourage governments, local authorities and the construction industry to pursue risk-informed development and invest in resilience. ***(SOURCE: United Nations).

UNESCO Director General on World Day


UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay

On 26 December 2004, the world experienced its most destructive tsunami in modern history. This event caused the death of 227,898 people and incalculable economic damage in countries bordering the Indian Ocean.****
Now, fifteen years later, 680 million people live in low-lying coastal zones.
This figure is expected to reach more than one billion by 2050. Protecting these communities is the responsibility of all.Continuous risk assessment and preparedness is key to safeguarding coastal communities.
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has worked for over fifty years to reduce vulnerability to tsunamis, stepping up the scale of its Tsunami Programme in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
It helps countries in the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean to assess tsunami risk, design and implement early warning systems, and educate at-risk communities.
These activities are essential to enhancing preparedness.In 2019 alone, tsunami exercises and regional workshops have been organized in the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean to enhance and test response plans.
Today, as we mark World Tsunami Awareness Day, a local tsunami exercise is taking place in Bodrum, Turkey, to assess preparedness following the implementation of activities in response to the 2017 Aegean Sea earthquake.
At a time when environmental risks caused by climate change are threatening human lives and livelihoods, governments, partner organizations and civil society need to support and facilitate these crucial disaster reduction activities.

This year, the World Day focuses on reducing damage to critical infrastructure and preventing the disruption of basic services, including health and educational facilities, in line with Target (d) of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Saving lives and protecting the livelihoods of communities at risk of tsunamis requires sustained investment in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems and education. In this field especially, we need to build the future we want today. ****(SOURCE: UNESCO).

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