Natural Disasters

Why Indonesia needs better tsunami warning systems

Experts believe that massive underwater landslides following the Anak Krakatau volcanic eruption are responsible for the latest tsunami, but more studies are needed to pin point the exact reasons

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Monday 24 December 2018

As the Anak Krakatau volcano continues to erupt, the Indonesian people are living in fear of more tsunamis. The country’s disaster mitigation agency has warned residents to be cautious till the volcano remains active.

The volcano’s first major eruption on December 22 had triggered a tsunami which killed close to 300 people in the coastal areas of the Sunda Strait. Experts believe that massive underwater landslides following the volcanic eruption are responsible for the tsunami, but more studies are needed to pin point the exact reasons.

Early warning systems for such landslide-induced tsunamis do not exist and authorities in Indonesia are now calling for such systems.

When there is an earthquake, tsunami warning systems pick up on the seismic activity and ferry the information so that a tsunami alert can be generated and disseminated to authorities and people on the ground.

In the case of the Krakatau volcanic eruption, seismic activity was not as high and the warning systems did not receive the information. It is also difficult to keep track of underwater landslides which are believed to be the cause of the current tsunami.

But there were other warning signs that should have been taken into account. The volcano has been continuously spewing ash, smoke and other material since July this year. Images taken in July, August and September show an increase in the amount of material coming out of the volcano’s vent.

Anak Krakatau, literally the ‘child of Krakatau’, was born out of the explosion from an earlier larger volcano named Krakatau. The explosion took place in 1883 and the volcano took almost 50 years to emerge back out of the sea and become active again forming a small island of its own, also known as the Anak Krakatau.

This is also not the first tsunami to hit Indonesia this year. In October, an earthquake-triggered tsunami had killed close to 2,000 people in the Sulawesi region of the country, especially in the resort city of Palu. While the country’s agency for meteorology, climatology and geophysics had warned of an ensuing tsunami after the quake had struck, many people were still caught unawares by the large waves, which were as high as six metres.

While officials say that the tsunami warning was lifted only after the water came crashing in, doubts prevail if people were given enough information about the impending danger. Earlier, on August 19, there was a series of three earthquakes in Indonesia and the South Pacific region. On August 5, an earthquake in Lombok had caused widespread destruction killing around 430 people.

The region falls in the Ring of Fire, a horseshoe shaped belt of seismic activity hotspots like volcanoes, earthquake epicentres and tectonic plate boundaries. This means that the people of Indonesia have always been vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. But the last two events have been highly unusual and without warning, causing the unwanted destruction and loss of life. This requires a major relook at the tsunami warning systems for Indonesia.

This tsunami also comes days before the 14th anniversary of the deadly Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 which had killed 120,000 people in Indonesia alone and around 2,26,000 people in 14 different countries.

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