In the Caribbean, more people have died from tsunamis than from hurricanes in the last 168 years.
And, Deputy Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU), Dr. Lorna Inniss, attributed this to residents placing more emphasis on protecting life and property from wind damage, than from water damage, and a general lack of preparation.
She was at the time addressing the Christ Church West District Emergency Organisation on the topic: Are You Ready For A Disaster Like A Hurricane or Tsunami?, at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa last Saturday.
Noting that, just as the Caribbean experienced hurricanes, the Pacific had to deal with tsunamis. Dr. Inniss pointed out that since 1842, at least 3,510 persons from the Caribbean lost their lives to tsunamis, compared with 579 from the Pacific.
??"The difference is they are better prepared. They were dealing with them [tsunamis] for a long time. They deal with them every year and know how and where to run and how quickly to return so fewer people die," the Deputy Director said.
She added that in 2010, seven people who survived the earthquake which killed thousands were killed by the tsunami that followed simply because they did not know what was approaching. "They stood up and let the water come and kill them because they were in shock. They did not know what it was," she observed.
She warned that Barbados and the Caribbean were also only clued to the fact that they were vulnerable to hurricanes. "We are very focused on the wind, and at the beginning of the hurricane season, hurricane straps go on sale because people don’t want their roofs to blow off. People have their shutters to go on the windows," she stated.
Dr. Inniss added that while those were good for hurricane preparedness, they did not protect against the damage of water.
"The water aspect of hazards we deal with tends to be ignored. I believe it would take a major event in Barbados where there is a loss of life related to the water or the loss of property [for us] to wake-up to the importance of trying to protect against the water," she stated.
But, she stressed that the risk of a tsunami to the Caribbean was high. She added that the Caribbean had experienced a number of tsunamis, totaling about 75 in the last 500 years.
Dr. Inniss warned that countries in the Indian Ocean, which lost over 230,000 people in 2004, were in the same situation as the Caribbean. "They were completely complacent and had no thought of tsunamis because they did not have them. They didn’t have a warning system, no education, nothing.
"That is why people are worried about the Caribbean now because we are in the situation where the Indian Ocean was in 2004 on December 26," Dr. Inniss pointed out.
She added that what made the situation worse for the Caribbean, was the fact that almost every island that has beautiful beaches has developed coastal tourism.
However, the Director urged Barbados and the rest of the region not to wait until a tsunami affected the country to be prepared, but to learn from others. "The main lesson that is learnt is pre-event planning," she stressed.