Devastated by the 2004 Tsunami, the Island in the Maldives Welcomes a Tsunami Drill

Feb 6, 2018

Still haunted by the memories of the 2004 tsunami, people in M. Kolhufushi island, Maldives are preparing for their first tsunami drill. Conducted in the school, the drill will help to lay out a much-needed evacuation plan for the students and the community.   

The 2004 tsunami caught M. Kolhufushi largely unprepared for natural disasters. The wave surged over the 1.6 kilometer-long and 300-meter-wide island, claiming the lives of 16 people, damaging most of the houses and wiping away its entire vegetation of banana, mango and mangroves. The tree line, according to the islanders, saved the island from the worst. People had no concept of tsunamis nor of emergency response.  

In 2016, a tsunami warning caused panic among the islanders and tourists. Even so many years later people did not know how to safely evacuate. Many people were injured while frantically running to the school, the safest building on the island, or hopping onto boats to escape on sea.

M. Kolhufushi is the second island in the Maldives where the Government of Japan supported regional initiative on strengthening school tsunami preparedness project, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  

“Our geographic vulnerability will always remain. But we can prepare and empower communities with the right skills and knowledge to respond effectively. We must prioritize preparedness if we are to prevent loss at this scale from happening again,” said Ahmed Shifaz, Resilience and Climate Change Programme Officer, UNDP Maldives.

In the Maldives, each inhabited island has one school. Preparing the students is really about preparing the entire island community.  The tsunami education, awareness and drill in the school will bring the people of M. Kolhufushi a step closer to be better prepared to respond to future tsunami alerts. 

Tsunami drill In Villingili island, the Maldives. Students were evacuated to the nearby mosque. Photo: Nick Axelrod / UNDP MaldivesTsunami drill in Gaafu Alif. Villingili Atoll Education Centre. Photo: Nick Axelrod / UNDP Maldives

In partnership with the National Disaster Management Centre, the Maldivian Red Crescent Society, the Maldives National Defence Force and Island Councils, UNDP Maldives is implementing school tsunami preparedness drills in five islands:  Villingili, M. Kolhufushi, Th.Thimarafushi, B. Eydhafushi, and R.Dhuvaafaru.

Guidelines incorporating lessons learnt and recommendations from all five drills will help plan future tsunami preparedness initiatives in the Maldives. It is expected that these guidelines will be adopted by the Ministry of Education and integrated into all School Emergency Operations Plans throughout the country.

The school tsunami preparedness is part of UNDP’s and Japan’s regional project “Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia-Pacific Region” in 18 Asia-Pacific countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu and Viet Nam.

The project contributes to the achievement of the Sendai Framework’s targets to reduce lives lost, numbers of people affected, and economic damage from natural and human-induced hazards. It also aims to achieve UNDP’s goal to help vulnerable regions to adapt to climate change by integrating disaster risk measures into national strategies.

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