Tsunami highlights small island vulnerability

Aerial view of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands by United Nations Photo
 
By Brigitte Leoni

BANGKOK, 6 February, 2013 - At least five people are reported to have died in a tsunami which struck a remote part of the Solomon Islands earlier today.

More than 5,000 people could have been seriously affected by the one meter wave that hit the town of Lata on Santa Cruz island swamping some villages and the town’s main airport but early warning systems worked and most people had fled the town for higher ground.

Initial information provided by OCHA suggests that the tsunami wave travelled 500 meters inland and flattened many traditional houses but the extent of the damage is still unknown especially in remote areas which may not have received the alert.

Some fifty people died in 2007 when the Solomon Islands was last hit by a tsunami following an 8.1 magnitude quake.

A tsunami warning was issued earlier today by The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) within four minutes of the earthquake and covered the Solomon Islands and many other surrounding islands such as Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna. The regional warning was cancelled 2.5 hours later.

In New Zealand, tsunami sirens were set off late in the afternoon, and people in coastal areas were being told to stay off beaches and out of the sea, rivers and estuaries. The Bureau of Meteorology said there was no tsunami threat to Australia however a tsunami watch was issued for Australia, New Zealand, and all the way to Indonesia.

More than 500,000 people are living in Solomon Islands which forms part of the Ring of Fire, a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“This lastest disaster event underlines the vulnerability of all these small low-lying islands to sea level rise. Many islands such as Vanuatu and Kiribati are already suffering from recurrent flooding. More action needs to be taken at the international level to increase their capacities to deal with what is now seen as inevitable,” said Jerry Velasquez from the UN office of Disaster Risk Reduction.

Representatives of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will be attending the next Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction in May in Geneva and will try again to convince the international community to take action before their Third International Conference on SIDS next year in Samoa.

Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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