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Two people moving a car through flood waters

Can all hazard risk be managed? (two)

In this lesson students will look at the impact of an unusually high magnitude and large scale tectonic event which an entire region experienced, and which was witnessed globally via the mass media

Key questions

What and where were the main impacts of the tsunami?

What was the scale of the impact?

Could the effects of the tsunami have been managed?

What were the main impacts of the tsunami and where were they?

Figures indicate that the actual casualties were 186,983 dead and 42,883 missing, for a total of 229,866. In addition to the large number of local residents, up to 9,000 foreign tourists (mostly Europeans) enjoying the peak holiday travel season were among the dead or missing. Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Somalia were the countries worst hit by the waves.

Economic impact

The impact on coastal fishing communities has been devastating with high losses of income earners as well as boats and fishing gear. Damage to infrastructure was an overriding factor. In some areas drinking water supplies and farm fields were contaminated for months and years by salt water from the ocean.

Environmental impact

Severe damage has been inflicted on ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, forests, coastal wetlands, vegetation, sand dunes and rock formations, animal and plant biodiversity and groundwater. The main effect is being caused by poisoning of the freshwater supplies and the soil by saltwater infiltration and deposit of a salt layer over arable land.

Social impact

Relief agencies reported that one-third of the dead appear to be children. This is a result of the relative high proportion of children in the populations of many of the affected regions and because children were the least able to resist being overcome by the surging waters. Oxfam went on to report that as many as four times more women than men were killed in some regions suggesting that they were waiting on the beach for the fishermen to return and looking after their children in the houses. Many health professionals and aid workers have reported widespread psychological trauma associated with the tsunami. Traditional beliefs in many of the affected regions state that a relative of the family must bury the body of the dead, and in many cases, no body remained to be buried.

What was the scale of the impact?

The scale of the tsunami, both in terms of human lives and also in financial terms, is immense. It is the fourth worst natural hazard to have occurred globally within living memory, exceeded only by past flooding along China's Yangtze River (1931, 1975) and the Bangladesh coast (1970). A physical event of such immense magnitude clearly has the potential to cause great damage. Measured in lives lost, this is one of the ten worst earthquakes in recorded history, as well as the single worst tsunami in history. Parts of the region are very densely populated. India and Indonesia have the world's second and fourth largest populations, respectively. Migration has then brought many of these people to coastal regions in search of work. Hence, the risks associated with potential tsunami damage in the Indian Ocean were much higher than in the past (in comparison, the 1964 Magnitude 9.2 earthquake in sparsely-populated Prince William Sound, Alaska, killed very few).

Could the effects of the tsunami have been managed?

Population is also spread across many small islands chains such as the remote Andaman Islands that were hard to contact in the aftermath of the disaster, thereby hindering aid efforts. The difficulties in initiating co-ordinated relief efforts were reflected by the amount of time it took to actually gauge the true death toll, given the highly dispersed nature of the region's population. Although earthquake scientists knew about the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake within minutes, the absence of monitoring equipment in the ocean itself meant that they did not know whether a tsunami had occurred. Additionally, the region lacked effective warning systems. Thus, even if the tsunami had been spotted sooner, it is uncertain whether effective warnings could have been made. With so much media coverage, there was no shortage of information dealing with the management failings that have came to light in the Indian Ocean region. However, it is important to stress the varying scale of different risks. While small-scale events - such as flooding in Boscastle Cornwall - can be effectively managed and perhaps even prevented, the sheer scale of the Indian Ocean tsunami and its unpredictability mean that major losses of life were always inevitable.


Perform your BBC transcripts from your homework/previous lesson.

Watch the Fly-through of Khaolak in Thailand to see the devastation. What do you notice about the areas of land that have been affected by the waves?

Main Activity

Look at the examples of maps with symbols and proportional symbols

It is your task to produce a map to show in a similar way the impact of the tsunami.

You will be provided with a tsunami impacts information sheet.

You must devise key to reflect the scale and type of impact.

You'll also need a world map (one is available in the previous lesson). 

Was the tsunami a ‘telegenic' disaster? What impact did the date and media coverage have on the international response? Is this usual for natural disasters in Asia?


Play noughts and crosses (0/X) with a partner. Try to score more points than your partner by placing words relating to the impacts and management of the impacts into the grid which relate to each other and explaining this relationship successfully to your partner.

File nameFiles

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Risky World Lesson 6 Fly-through of Khoalak in Thailand


8 MB

Risky World Lesson 6 Scale of Impact Sheet


263 KB

Risky World Lesson 6 Scale of Impact Sheet (1)


254 KB

Risky World Lesson 6 Example Maps


2 MB

Risky World Lesson 6 Example Maps (1)


102 KB

Risky World Lesson 6 o/x Outline


119 KB

Risky World Lesson 6 o/x Outline (1)


111 KB

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