For all the investments made in early warning technologies and systems, the world did not predict last Friday’s devastating earthquake in Japan which has left hundreds dead and thousands missing.
The earthquake, the largest ever to hit that country, has now been upgraded. It is said to have been about one thousand times higher than the earthquake which leveled Haiti last year. It led to a tsunami which obliterated many communities, drenching them in a sea of mud and water. Tsunami warnings were sounded for the entire Pacific but the worst fears remained unrealised and today it is Japan alone which has faced the brunt of the earthquake damage and the accompanying tsunami.
For the Caribbean, fresh with the memory of last year’s terrible earthquake in Haiti, Japan is a reminder of the risks that countries face when living on top of a tectonic plate. Constantly hit by hurricanes, the region remains at risk also of earthquakes.
But the real threat is whether the Caribbean can survive a tsunami especially one such as the one which swept through parts of Japan last Friday. Unlike the case with the catastrophic tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in Asia on Boxing Day in 2004, there was for last Friday’s tsunami more video footage of the high waves racing onshore and destroying almost everything it is path.
The sheer force of the tsunami waves was awesome and at the same time frightening. If you were in its path there could have been no escape. Those who survived it, can consider themselves lucky.
Were such a tsunami to hit the shores of Guyana, it will wipe out most of the population.
It will simply waltz over our sea defenses and destroy all the populated areas along the coast. That much is certain from only looking at the damage cause by last Friday’s tsunami.
Guyana has always prided itself that it lay outside of the hurricane belt and therefore is not as exposed as many other countries are to the devastating effects of hurricanes.
But are we immune to the effects of a tsunami, resulting from an earthquake in the Caribbean Sea? Given our low-lying location, it is not likely that Guyana can ever survive such a threat and given that we are a poor country, if any such tsunami, the size of what hit Asia in 2004 or Japan last Friday were to happen in the Caribbean, Guyana would be obliterated.
We would not be able to recover because the bulk of our population lives along the coast and there can be no escape. So far, however, there is no indication that Guyana is under any threat of an underwater earthquake. But then again we cannot predict how nature will work. All we can do is hope that the scientists make the right predictions and allow for early warning.
But where are we to run should there be a tsunami warning in Guyana. Hundreds of miles going South is flatland. By the time we get to high ground it will be too late.
There is of course no need to panic but at least we can take some lessons from Japan. Despite the fact that it suffered an earthquake whose effects is many times that of the one that leveled Haiti, the country is not going to be as badly affected as Haiti was. In fact, most of the larger buildings remained intact and the infrastructure has stood up well. We therefore have to take note of the building standards adopted by the Japanese and other developed countries which have allowed them to reduce the damage they suffer as a result of these natural events.
Japan will recover and recover quickly because it is rich. Guyana has to be able to strengthen its economy so that ramshackle buildings can make way for sturdier structures and the only way this is going to happen is for the country to continuously grow.
This is an election year and therefore it is important that there be no disturbances. Guyana has to prepare for the future. And therefore it cannot afford to have incidents that set this country back. Not while we cannot predict what nature will do next.
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