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Tsunami alert: What lessons?

13th April 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

It's pretty easy to imagine what would have happened if the worst had come to the worst on Wednesday evening in the sense of the weather agencies’ global tsunami alert actually meaning Tanzania being hit by a tsunami.

At the risk of sounding overly conciliatory, considering the cynicism and suspicion with which many people usually regard weather forecasts, we must say the Tanzania Meteorological Agency this time around did a commendable job issuing the alert within minutes of disaster being seen looming in far-off Indonesia.

Mainly thanks to synergies facilitated by advances in surveillance and communication technology, the agency routinely kept the nation posted on how the worrisome weather phenomenon was developing – right to the time the alert was downgraded and later lifted.

It’s only natural for disaster alerts to touch off widespread fear and panic, often with the loss of life and limb as well as damage to property owing to subsequent stampedes.

That explains the crucial importance of disaster preparedness which, too bad, is seldom as translated into reality as it is talked about.

For instance, TMA was both reasonably prompt and elaborate in identifying areas that stood as the most likely targets of the then looming storm and in appealing to residents of the respective areas to be especially vigilant and take precautions such as moving to higher ground.

Cases in point include urging people, particularly those on fishing expeditions in the Indian Ocean, to suspend their activities and seek safety and only resume duty after the all-clear was given.

A random survey conducted shortly after the alert was issued showed that it was from the media, chiefly television and radio broadcasts, that many learnt of the frightening development in Indonesia and what was expected to happen in its wake.

However, at least in Dar es Salaam, there was little indication of the precautions taken having much possibility of saving lives had tragedy struck.

For instance, crossing Magogoni Creek by ferry boat was temporarily prohibited all right but then this resulted in hundreds of people being stranded on both sides of the creek. Also, people in their thousands literally fled their downtown office and business premises fearing for their lives, again ending up stranded as roads were simply impassable. The day’s downpour made the situation all the worse.

We have previously addressed the issue of some of our major towns, notably Dar es Salaam, being only just navigable even during non-rush hours.

Among the factors given as causing the situation are narrowness and generally poor state of roads, non-functioning of road traffic lights, recklessness by motorists and other road users.

Wednesday’s mess on most of the city’s roads was evidence that we have still a very long way to go before we can afford to say we have made inspiring progress.

Just a thought, and thank God things did not come to this: what would have prevented a tsunami from sweeping away all the thousands of people stranded on these roads and elsewhere as they sought pathways to safe ground but to no avail? Any safe assembly or collection points anywhere in the city? Where?

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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