Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan and the Indian Ocean


Tsunamis are mainly caused by earthquakes, volcanic activities, landslides primarily on the floor of the oceans. A tsunami occurs as a disturbance in the sea where large waves rise to very high heights and may hit the coastlines. This paper explores the causes, degree of destruction, size of landmass affected, mitigation measures, mortality rates, lessons, and similarities and differences between the Japan and Indian Ocean tragedies.

The Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

On 26 December 2004, the tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean was triggered by an earthquake that originated from the ocean floor near the shores of Aceh, Indonesia. The quake was a 9.1 size that broke along the fault line 1448.41 kilometers in the stretch, which joins the Indian and the Australian plates (Kelman et al., 2008). The rigid plate in the ocean slipped below the lighter plate in the continental. The earthquake caused the ocean plate to lift up by 40 meters, which led to a massive tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people (Kelman et al., 2008). The tsunami reached the shores of Banda Aceh, where it killed approximately 100,000 people, then moved to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, where it killed thousands. Another tsunami wave reached Somalia in East Africa, killing a significant number of people. Its final destination was South Africa, where it also claimed more lives, and at the end of it all, the deaths totaled to an approximate number of 250,000 people (Kelman et al., 2008). As a result of the earthquake, many tourist resorts in Thailand were destroyed, and many tourists were killed in the tragic event.

Some tourists survived as they sustained severe injuries. Due to water movement from the ocean basin, large amounts of debris were transferred to the mainland. Damage to the environment was also experienced where homes, farms, and fishing sites were destroyed due to piling debris, corpses, and salty water (Kelman et al., 2008). Indeed, the tsunami was a monster that made history since it disrupted the social-economic activities of people living in the coastal regions, damaged properties, and killed many people and animals.

Prior Mitigation Measures

The Indonesian people living on the coastline were not alerted in time about the tsunami before it happened. After the occurrence of a similar event in the year, people in Aceh learned to seek higher grounds when they sensed the shaking of the land (Morin et al., 2008). Such knowledge was handy and saved many more lives. Generally, before establishing the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MoMAF) in 1999, the local authorities in Indonesia never had concrete mitigation measures to counter the events of 26 December 2004 (Morin et al., 2008). Different bodies carried out policies and standards employed in the coastal region in the central and local governments. Unfortunately, there was poor coordination between these bodies hence their incapability of managing disasters such as the one that occurred in 2004. Fortunately, the MoMAF included the mitigation of natural occurrences in the Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) in 2001, although most local governments in Indonesia never implemented the policies (Morin et al., 2008). Today, the mitigation measures have significantly improved communication and alertness in case of any disaster.

Post Mitigation Measures

After 2004, Indonesia resolved to invest in a tsunami-detection system in the Indian Ocean to better prepare. The system is made up of sensors placed on the seafloors to alert the government of the tsunami’s onset (Morin et al., 2008). Among other measures, the Indonesian government has also emphasized disaster preparedness training. Significant changes have also been made in the building and construction industry. For instance, the ground floors of three to four-story buildings must now have an open space on the ground floors to allow water waves to pass through without encountering resistance (Morin et al., 2008). Today, several sirens have been installed to warn the locals in case of an imminent disaster threat.

Lessons from the Incident

One of the Indonesian government’s lessons is if the ICM program were applied, many lives and property would have been saved. The government now values the importance of educating the people on how to know the early signs of disasters. Secondly, the tragedy was critical in underlying the essential of having good roads when dealing with emergencies, which hindered the evacuation of residents along the coastal line. Thirdly, the government now realized the importance of strong structures that can withstand tsunami waves. Lastly, the poor coordination between the local agencies and the national government alerted the relevant stakeholders to the need to have a centralized approach when dealing with future calamities (Morin et al., 2008). Therefore, the Indian Ocean tsunami served as an eye-opener for the government to improve its response to emergencies.

Tsunami and Earthquake in Japan

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 hit North-Eastern Japan, leading to an enormous tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. The incidence was due to the meeting of two tectonic earth plates (Oskin, 2017). One of the plates slid underneath the other, causing energy build-up that led to an earthquake. The tsunami impacted the regions between Norway to Antarctica. Japan was most affected since 150,000 people became homeless while 50,000 among them resulted in temporary shelters (Oskin, 2017). The financial cost of the damage that happened due to the tsunami was estimated to be 199 billion dollars making it the world’s worst destruction. The number of people that the tsunami killed is estimated to be around 15,894 (Oskin, 2017). The tsunami also affected the plant of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power, causing the plant to leak radioactive items. Evidently, the tsunami was a big blow to Japan’s economy and social life because of the damages.

Prior Mitigation Measures

Unlike Indonesia, the Japanese government had already established an effective warning system technology. People received alerts on their phones, warning them about the earthquake’s onset (Oskin, 2017). The well-designed buildings that were resistant to tsunami waves and the warning system saved many people’s lives. As a safeguarding measure, high-speed trains and factories dealing with assembly were also stopped. Therefore, all the above actions helped Japan reduce the overall impact that could have otherwise been devastating.

Post Mitigation Measures

After the tsunami, about 58 percent of people relocated to higher points. Mitigation measures to educate people about awareness and preparedness in Japan were also established. The government also deployed technicians in the Pacific Ocean to install sensors to measure the forces that caused the earthquake to prepare well for the future (Oskin, 2017). Since the original buildings were able to counter the tsunami forces, they could not counter the 2011 tsunami due to its huge magnitude. The engineers now focused on researching ways of designing buildings that could withstand the pressures of bigger waves (Oskin, 2017). These measures will now ensure the country is well prepared to face another tragedy.

Lessons from the Incident

One of the lessons is that Japan realized that they had to build more robust structures, tsunami seawalls, Japanese coastlines, and buildings that could resist bigger forces. For instance, a building where people were being housed for safety was unfortunately swept away (Oskin, 2017). The lesson learned from the incident was that strong structures were needed to curb the disaster and that mitigation measures of creating awareness and preparedness were needed.

Similarities and Differences between the Japan and Indian Ocean Incidents

Generally, the Indian Ocean and Japan incidents have more similarities than differences. In terms of similarities, it is evident in both cases that the tsunamis were comprised of several waves that hit various areas at different times, causing the death of many people and destruction of property. After incidences, the authorities of both nations embarked on establishing mitigation measures of educating people and preparing them to be ready in case other earthquakes and tsunamis occur. The difference between the Indonesian and Japanese incidents is in terms of the value of their magnitude. The magnitude recorded in the Indian Ocean, according to Kelman et al. (2008), was 9.1, while that of Japan was 9.0. However, Japan was better prepared to deal with the tsunami than the countries affected by the tsunami from the Indian Ocean since it had an advanced alerting system. Therefore, different countries should learn from how Japan prepared itself for emergencies and reciprocate the same policies and measures in their planning.

In conclusion, a tsunami is a menace facing many countries, especially those bordering seas and frequently experiencing volcanic activities. Frequent earthquakes and tsunamis can paralyze the economies of different countries, leading to a reduction in population due to deaths. Improvements in technology, such as sensors and computer monitoring systems, are beneficial in the preparation plans. In this case, the local authorities can be alerted quickly, and emergency actions such as the evacuation of people can occur before the effects of earthquakes or tsunamis are experienced. Additional measures can be integrated into the education system for children to learn about disaster management.


Kelman, I., Spence, R., Palmer, J., Petal, M., & Saito, K. (2008). Tourists and disasters: Lessons from the 26 December 2004 tsunamis. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 12(3), 105–113.

Morin, J., De Coster, B., Paris, R., Lavigne, F., Flohic, F., & Le Floch, D. (2008). Tsunami-resilient communities’ development in Indonesia through educative actions. Disaster Prevention and Management, 17(3), 430-446.

Oskin, B. (2017). Japan earthquake & tsunami of 2011: Facts and information. Livescience.Com.

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