posted 05/12/05


Studying the Tsunami Damage, Earth Institute Fellows See Ways to Mitigate

April 29, 2005
Matara, Sri Lanka

By Guillermo Franco, Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, Bijan Khazai and J. Carter Ingram

We are four Earth Institute Fellows in Sri Lanka to study areas affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami and identify opportunities to help the community mitigate damage from future natural disasters.

Matara, Sri Lanka

Buildings with two or more stories that were built with reinforced concrete — typical of wealthier inhabitants — resisted the tsunami much better, sustaining little to no damage. Photo credit: Guillermo Franco

Bijan Khazai, civil engineer with a focus on hazards and risk research
Guillermo Franco, civil engineer with a focus on hazards and risk research
Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, ecologist
J. Carter Ingram, ecologist

The Damage
Seeing the damage firsthand has been shocking. The majority of the coastline is covered in the remnants of everyday life. It has been difficult for us to comprehend that the ocean could have caused so much devastation in such a short time — and with such little warning.

We realize that the effects of the tsunami could have been ameliorated in at least a few ways.

Guidelines Were Not Enforced
Sri Lanka’s Coastal Zone Management Plan had created a 125-meter buffer zone along the coast where construction was not permitted. These guidelines, however, were not enforced. Many poor, landless people settled in these areas, building vulnerable single-story masonry houses.

Matara, Sri Lanka

EI Fellow Bijan Khazai (second from left) talks with local fishermen in Thalpe, Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Guillermo Franco

Buffer Zone
Following the tsunami, the government decreed and has thus far partially enforced a coastal buffer zone of 100 meters from the shoreline along the western and southern coasts as well as a 200 meter buffer zone for the eastern coast.

  • Because enforcement has been uneven, the buffer zone has become an area of contention, complicating the reconstruction process.
  • Businesses which suffered less than 40 percent damage have been permitted to remain within the buffer zone.
  • It is still unclear whether homes that survived the tsunami will be allowed to stay in the buffer zone.

Further muddying the issue is the fact that people who were able to repair and rebuild before the enforcement of the buffer zone have been allowed to stay in their houses.


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