An earthquake west of Sumatra, can that become a very major concern for Sweden? Yes, a disaster struck the World 041226 and harmed Swedish nationals more than any natural disaster the past centuries.
The World is full of surprises, this was completely unexpected and unpredicted. But in a perspective spanning over millenia it may appear less unexpected.
The Earth has experienced five natural disasters with 200000 dead or more the last 100 years; four of them in China (!!); three of them earthquakes. The earlier catastrophes were more concentrated geographically. They got comparable little attention as they were not conveniently localised for media. And other disaster types are worse than the "natural". "Spanska sjukan" killed tens of millions 1918-1919. Wars take a bigger toll than natural disasters. And actually this catastroph can be stated to have an almost neglible impact on the human population, the death toll was only of that magnitude which occurs for the human population in each single day. The equivalent of this tradegy happens every day. As I consider the worst problem of mankind is overpopulation, this can be seen as a remedy, but we need a tsunami like this each day to stop the population growth. That says something about the severity of the population growth problem.
Many people over a large area were killed by tsunami waves 1883, when the island Krakatoa close to Jakarta blow up, but the harm did not cover such a huge area. A tsunami event of the current magnitude has not occured in the well documented history and was not judged likely.
The tsunami caused harm to many nations geographically widely dispersed. Europeans were hit, as tourist resorts were hit. The harmed resorts seemed to host visitors from the Nordic European countries and Sweden in particular. The tsunami brought major harm to people on three continents. From that point of view the event may be unique.
Maybe that can bring the World closer together? Humanity is now fighting a common enemy. Many countries were hit hard, even many EU-countries. That may make it easier to sympathize with each other and to work for a common goal and a better and more united World.
The tsunami coincidently hit two troubled spots, conflicts which has been aching for many decades (northern Sri Lanka and northern Sumatra). Hopefully the common harm and needs give openings for solving the conflicts. The northern Sumatra conflict give an additional Swedish tie to the catastrophe, as some of the players are in Stockholm.
Sweden nationalities appear as number five on the death toll rank list. The tsunami seems to have hit some favourite Swede spots hard, and Sweden is on the top 5 list of tourists in Thailand for some reason. Thailanders are building Buddha monasteries and similar in interior north Sweden, indications on a surprisingly strong mutual link.
1994 the ship Estonia perished outside Finland, and 2004 the Phuket peninsula in Thailand, the two real big disasters to Swedish nationals both happened on foreign ground.
A difference between Sweden and the countries which absorbed the big death toll is that the Swedes usually were rather wealthy (shore-site hotels at the peak week between Xmas and New Year is not the cheapest way for holidays, while people from India, Ceylon and Sumatra living close to the beach probably represented a poor segment of a poor population. Swedish survivors fly back to their home and work, while many locals survivors are not that happy.
Returning Swedes talk very warmly about the assistance received from individual Thai or Ceylonese, unselfish helping in a difficult situation, which also was very bad for themselves. They speak less warmly about the assistance from the official Sweden.
It took time for the official Sweden to react properly on what has happened.
The day after our ministry of foreign affairs said a few Swedes probably were killed (<10). For all I knew some days later it may be 700 or even more. While our ministry of foreign affairs talked about 6 confirmed deaths, Thailand authorities official death toll comprised 58, but the list of Swedes not accounted for (not heard about, missing) comprised 3500 names. Unaccompanied children arriving into Sweden; witnesses reports; publicly known names reported missing; etc.; made a very high death toll likely, and the authorities ought to have understood that in a fraction of a day. Things like alerting a sufficient number of staff to answer incoming calls; arranging transport home for those who wanted to go home; for those injured; fly down staff for assistance to stranded and uncertain; arrange experts for identification of dead; arrange cool storage for dead during the identification process; all seemed to be triggered two days later than possible and reasonable. The consequences of the delay were limited compared to the total harm by the catastrophe. Mistakes were done, but I think they are generally excusable and does not justify considerable administrative changes or reprimands. It happened on Xmas holiday at what time the family should be the major priority if any and it takes some time to just bring this into the brain. Most normal humans would have reacted as the responsible did. But on the other hand, there is a holy principle that in case of emergency the captain's priority must be the safety of the passengers, not own convenience or own safety or family business, and the captainīs place is on the bridge. This analogy is not fair but just for the case that the principle should not be doubted some low-voice critisism is justified. Just stating that a more adequate and faster reaction by some persons and authorities would have been desirable seems sufficient.
One problem may be that the responsibility for this matter automatically became Ministry of Foreign affairs. That ministry to its very nature is stiff, formal, hesitant, slow, conservative and suspicious (this is as it should be). The initiative the first days was taken by the travel agencies, who had the network for realising the significance to the Swedes and understood the situation much better, their business idea is to serve visitors, and they are able to make at least some fast relevant decisions (fly in more staff to handle the situation and hire plans to fly out their clients faster).
Why did it go that bad? Hundreds of experts around the World connected to different seismic labs or automatically receiving information probably knew that a major earthquake in the Ocean west of Sumatra occurred within 20 minutes. It is known that such earthquakes can cause tsunamis and that tsunamis can travel over ocean-wide distances. It was of cause initially unclear if and in what direction, so probably insufficient basis for ordering an immediate evacuation, but at least the media could within 20 minutes after the earthquake start alerting people to run as hell if the Ocean started to appear odd.
The public get a somewhat erronous picture how a tsunami may look, more could have reacted more adequately with a more informed view. Tsunami waves have extremely long vawe length. Therefore they need not look steep or high at a distance. The first view of it may be in the bottom and not the top of the wave. And it may come a stronger second wave after the first. The Tsunami may just appear as an extreme tide. But this is seldom how it appears in movies. Reading text books, the height of the tsunami is often the first and most threatening information given, making the reader assuming that a tsunami that does not look very high need not be very dangerous. Watching horror movies type "deep impact" you sort of intiutively expected the tsunami wave to be steep. And after watching "the day after tommorrow" one expects the water to appear rather clean. But this tsunami did not look that threatening when approaching at some places. Maybe just improving the public education given in lexica could have saved a number of lives. Some of the dangers with the tsunami is that it was long (water voilently streaming upwards at 70 km/hr for five minutes) and that the water carried a lot of dangerous debris.
Now many people just stood watching a cool phenomenon and searched for the best camera angle until it was too late.
Information on tsunamis on
A good source of all type of informatino connected to the event is
Why was the worst death toll (Sumatra) the most underestimated for the first days? It seems logic it would be the highest (closest)!
And why does the information spread so slowly? Mobiles and emails can spread reports world-wide in a matter of minutes. Even very close to the disaster mobiles will survive and not far from centre of harm even internet survives. The flooding hits narrow areas close to the coast, there must be unharmed people in undisturbed infrastructure close enough to issue reports of the local severity within hours. A message from Sumatra to India that it may be dangers to be close to the beach had several hours to be transmitted, but was not properly processed. There must have been very many eye-witness reports coming in over telephone within an hour. Aircraft and satellites ought to give good intelligence on regional level within half a day. It is difficult to understand why it takes two or three days for the free press and the governmental agencies to get a reasonable picture of the magnitude of the catastrophe, at least for tourist resorts in Thailand.
The only place in the Indian Ocean there an adequate tsunami warning was issued was Diego Garcia, http://www.dg.navy.mil/ an island with a British/American military base as well as custody for some Al Quada interns. Could they not have sent a copy to their neighbours? Probably they neither had a mailing list nor instructions.
For surviving victims of this catastrophe relief aid is streaming in, "victims" in other situations in the poor hurt countries get much less support, these victims are likely to receive much more. Many countries have promised to help. It is stated that similar promises has not been kept before (Bam, Iran 03-12-25; Afghanistan), it would be interesting to get statistics, perhaps something a journalist should work at?
A week after the catastrophe one has the feeling that the official Sweden tries to do unnecessary much, at least concerning visible actions, it gives an impression of saving the face. And it will be some sort of investigation about the early reaction, which I think is on a too high level and turn the issue to politics more than needed. It is mostly of cosmetic and psychological importance what the authorities could have done better, so we may be too tempted to rather unimportant changes. It may just not be justified to pay the cost of a higher state of alertness to meet the once a century event if the benefits this higher alertness could give was not higher than now. It was more important with Estonia, when it mattered more what authorities did and could do and what sort of organisation we had and what actions was required. In this case I think the main impact on government action is that we will get most Swedish bodies identified and sent home, instead of more or less anonymously cremated in Thailand. Ironically, the effect of government action for the Estonia case was the exact reverse, bodies were intentionally not identified or salvaged.
The Bombay and Jakarta stock markets had good times. The inflow of foreign aid is a positive thing for national companies, while the segments of the economy hit by the tsunami had little impact on national companies. For Thailand and Ceylon the tourist industry is more significant.