As parts of Mindanao are currently being rocked by a rare series of powerful earthquakes, residents and disaster mitigation officials should prepare not only for quake swarms but also for another rare occurrence: a strong tsunami.
The earthquake swarm and deadly tsunami are not as unusual as they may seem in the affected areas. Approximately 6,000 people died and 2,000 were reported missing from a tsunami up to 30 feet high on Aug. 17, 1976. Scientists said it was generated by the Cotabato Trench following a magnitude 8 earthquake from a seismic fault system that affects central and southern Mindanao.
After the two strong earthquakes in Mindanao last week, seismologists have warned those in affected areas to prepare for more temblors until the end of the year. Evacuations are under way and relief efforts being ramped up as disaster mitigation officials declared that Mindanao is facing a humanitarian crisis.
Preventive measures, however, are also urgently needed along coastal communities for tsunamis. As unpredictable as earthquakes, tsunamis can cause apocalyptic destruction.
The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 killed a horrific 227,000 people in 14 countries; the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011 claimed nearly 16,000 lives. Recovery, even for an advanced economy like Japan with a high level of disaster preparedness, is always tortuous. In a developing country like the Philippines, such a catastrophe can worsen poverty for decades.
The United Nations has pointed out that while tsunamis are rare, they can be extremely deadly. In the past 100 years, 58 tsunamis around the world have killed over 260,000 people, the UN warned as it led today’s observance of World Tsunami Awareness Day.
By 2030, about half of the world’s population is expected to live in coastal areas, giving urgency to the focus of this special day: build to last. Countries are being urged to invest in resilient infrastructure, early warning systems, and education on tsunami preparedness. “Build to last” is a call worth heeding.