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Three Years Ago Today

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Three years ago today, in what scientists refer to as the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, the resultant tsunami caused more than 225,000 deaths in eleven countries along the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The 2004 tsunami has since been estimated as the ninth worst natural disaster in modern history, which deserves (at least) 225,000 moments of silence and reflection.

For the people of Java, Indonesia, however, which has
again been hit by rising waters, the monsoon rains that have impacted their region on the tsunami's third anniversary don't leave time for reflection as they run from landslides that are forcing thousands from their homes:
At least 80 people have been killed or are reported missing after floods triggered landslides in the central Java region of Indonesia. Local officials say they fear the death toll could rise. Thousands have been forced to seek shelter after their homes were buried or washed away. Landslides and floods are regular in Indonesia and many blame deforestation.

Also devastating, but receiving less notice was Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh last November. The reason it received less notice? The Bangladeshi Government acted responsibly and evacuated their citizens. But >3000 people still died and a great part of their coastal region was wiped out in a harbinger of damage that rising sea levels may cause in the future...

This was because Cyclone Sidr was supposed to have been just another strong cyclone in cyclone season in a low lying country that had been devastated by cyclones in the past. But it wasn't like those other cyclones. This was a cyclone that sped up as it approached the shore, resulting in a storm surge that emulated a tsunami; which raises the question: What new kind of weather events will climate change bring in the future?

Bangladesh gives us a prescient view:

As I walked into Rajashwer village in southern Bangladesh, the only sign of human habitation was tarpaulins strung up along the river bank. The heart of the village looked as though it had been through a tumble dryer. Possessions were knotted into the branches of fallen trees, corrugated metal roofs and wooden walls were scattered and smashed beyond repair.

The last time I saw such scenes was three years ago, in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami. Accounts of survivors from Cyclone Sidr bear striking similarity to those of the tsunami survivors.

Searching amongst the debris in Rajashwer village was an older man, sifting though a pile of twisted metal roofing. Kanchan Ali Khan, 70, spent the night of November 15, 2007 clinging to a tree, having been swept up by a tidal surge of water that was 15 feet (4.5 meters) high.

A fifteen foot storm surge from a cyclone on a sea level coastal region. It was not caused by an underwater earthquake, but another kind of earthquake. The kind that we have to ask if we'll see more of, especially those who live in coastal areas at or near sea level with unstable storm seasons over warming waters.

Like Bangladesh. It was the Bangladeshi Government's efforts that kept the death tool low. They deserve a great deal of credit for that. The situation for the people since then? Dire, though help has been arriving (the U.S. sent naval vessels with aid and helicopters to deliver to blocked inland regions).

For the '04 tsunami victims, much has been done, more is needed. Three years on, progress has been made in Indonesia, though those who lost loved ones (and there were so many) must still be reeling from the shock of the Boxer Day disaster.

In Sri Lanka, also devastated by the tsunami, the fighting between the rebels and the government has resumed.

And the villagers in Thailand who found that their homes that were washed away by the waves were replaced, in some cases, by new hotels and developments...

Which means the cliché, the more things change the more they stay the same, will not change.