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Are Complex Disasters Predictable?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Geography
Wordcount: 3588 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Critically evaluate this statement using two recent case studies (after 2010 – present) to demonstrate your understanding of the wider societal issues involved in such events, and the lessons learnt for disaster management in each case study.

Complex disasters can occur in a spilt second across the world and are nearly impossible to predict. Although due to recent technological advances, some can be predicted but not well in advance. These systems/warnings might only give an insight to what is about to happen moments before they do.

Complex Disasters have a knock-on b effect where they can trigger/cause another disaster which can potentially cause another and so on if not taken care of properly.

Complex Disasters can cause numerous amounts of strain on the local government causing a collapse in political structure in possibly not only one site of the country but the whole country, depending on the type of disaster and its aftermath result.

If the strain was extreme to the point of complete collapse, especially in a fragile country where the government ability to assist in the aftermath becomes very slim, total chaos could occur where unlawful action could take place by the inhabitants. This could be anything from theft (from local shops/supermarkets etc. for food/water, medication) to rioting / fighting for resources.

The amount of humanitarian aid given can be dependant on how the affected government controls the aftermath result of the disaster.

In this essay I will be discussing two complex disasters from the year 2010 to the present date, how the complex disasters chosen influenced the local community, media, the lessons learned & how the government effected could have used previous complex disasters to control how predictable these complex disasters could have been.

The two complex disasters that I have chosen to discuss are the: Haiti Earthquake (2010) and the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011).

First Case Study:

Haiti Earthquake (2010):

Haiti – known as a fragile setting, on the late afternoon at 16:53pm on January 12th, 2010, roughly fifteen miles southwest of the Haitian capitol Port-au-Prince, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred followed by two aftershocks weighing in at 5.9 & 5.5 magnitude earthquakes. This earthquake caused an estimated death of 250,000 people with an overall 300,000 people injured. (K, Reid. June 2018).

Geologists believed that the cause of this earthquake was due to the movement of the eastward Caribbean tectonic plate along the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden (EPG) strike-slip fault system. (D. Cressey, January 2010). Although observations showed that there was no surface deformation.

Further observations show that the cause of the earthquake was due to the contractional deformation of the Léogâne fault. Discovered underneath the city of Léogâne, a small hidden thrust fault was unearthed. Geologists now believe that the earthquake was caused as a result of the slipping of rock upward across the EPG system. (A. Thompson, 2013).

It is estimated that three million people were affected from this earthquake with one million being left homeless. The earthquake caused massive amounts of damage to the local economy which included the loss of electric power supply, loss of communication lines & road blockages due to debris. 

Since the countries computer network system was left unaffected, this became a useful way of communicating with those who were separated by the earthquake. People effected by the earthquake took to Social Network/Media sites such as Twitter & Facebook to find information on those missing relatives/friends. Rougher areas where people didn’t have internet used text messaging to gather information and contributing updates where needed.

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From October 2010, cases of the bacterial infection cholera began to arise around the Artibonite River (Haiti’s main source of fresh water). This was found to the cause of contamination with fecal matter allegedly caused by a leak in the toilets where the Asian UN Peacekeeping forces were stationed. Reports suggested that the Cholera infection was absent before the UN Peacekeeping forces arrived, this was validated when a report by a French epidemiologist concluded that it was a too much of a coincidence that the country in which the peacekeepers had been deployed from (Kathmandu) had the exact same outbreak of Cholera strain as the one in Haiti. (R. Piarroux, B. Faucher, J. Gaudart, D. Raoult, July 2011).

Due to this also happening after the earthquake, a further 770,000 people were left unwell and a total of 9,200 cases were fatal. (R. Barrais, R. Magloire, July 2011).

Humanitarian Aid:
After the earthquake occurred, multilaterals and bilaterals allocated $13.4 billion dollars of Humanitarian Aid for the relief and recovery of Haiti to be spent between when the earthquake occurred (January 12th, 2010) until the year 2020. Out of the $13.4 billion issued, only $6.43 billion has been disbursed to this date (P. Farmer, 2016).

An additional $3.06 billion dollars was contributed to UN offices and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) by private donors such as charities, foundations and individuals.

 Since the incident, together with the multilaterals, bilaterals and Non-Government Organisations contributions, the total amount combined was $9.49 billion dollars which was distributed. This amount of money was distributed to the Government of Haiti (GOH), and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) based in Haiti. Government officials estimated around 293,000 homes were either destroyed completely or collapsed and 4,992 schools were affected. (P. Farmer, 2016).

On the 14th of January 2010, Government, United Nations agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations around the globe began to deploy humanitarian aid. Although all this aid was given, it would take time to create a full effect since the aid needed would be deployed slimly.

Total cost of damage was roughly in the region of $7.8 billion US dollars ($4.3 billion in physical damage and £3.7 billion in economic losses).

Thanks to the humanitarian aid provided, 80% of the total schools affected have now reopened, 75% of farming households have now been reached & given supplies to resume a working life. 1676 children that were separated and registered, 285 of which were reunited with their families and the remaining children were rehoused with persons of relation or persons known by the child. 4.3 million people received food and 1.1 million people received fresh clean water daily. Finally, over 1.5 million people had received emergency shelter. (D. Sciba, 2011).




See below figure:

Figure above shows the humanitarian aid received from other countries in USD million dollars currency [part 1]: Office Of The Special Envoy For Haiti. (P. Falmer, 2016).









Figure above shows the humanitarian aid received from other countries in USD millions currency [part 2]: Office Of The Special Envoy For Haiti. (P. Falmer, 2016).

Disaster Management:

 Although the humanitarian aid assisted quite a lot in the redevelopment of the country, there was quite a lot to learn from the disaster management operation. Coordination and leadership were a challenge from the beginning. In the circumstances as the Haiti earthquake where such chaos occurred due to the disruption & destruction. Efforts of coherence with aid was shown once multi cluster mechanisms started to kick in. This helped with the distribution of aid in more rural areas.

Nether less more resources were needed, especially from well leading agencies, such as the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and the NGO where their multi cluster mechanisms could assist even further. Some of the aid given by over a hundred aid organisations were somewhat not professional (also we are sure that these organisations are well meaning) which resulted in not a well-formed approach once upon arrival.

Once the earthquake hit, at around 19:00pm, John Holmes (Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) at the time) begins a meeting between lead OCHA staff at their headquarters in New York.

At 22:00 the ERC granted $10 million in CERF funding (the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund) to help with the beginning of the relief efforts in Haiti

(CERF was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005. It was designed to bring new dynamic to fighting against emergencies. CERF is used when humanitarian aid is at a slim point. A $500 million-dollar standby fund that would ensure all those affected in the disaster received support as quickly as possible). (N. Doyle, C. Simpson, 2010).

The heavy presence of military and government officials from America and Canada proved beneficial & challenging. With the use of military aid, distribution of assistance helped with the local communities to assist with search and rescue etc. the running and rebuilding of the airport and harbour.

The coordination between the humanitarian aid and the Military was paramount to the success of the redevelopment of the country.

A report stated that the method of Disaster Management conducted by local government also showed lack of experience and knowledge. It states that more knowledge into the persons vulnerable in a disaster and differentiate the persons affected by the earthquake and those who are suffering from deprivation. (J. Holmes, 2010).

Second Case Study:

The Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami (2011).

2011, in the northeast region of Japan, at around 14:26pm, a 9.0 – 9.1 magnitude undersea earthquake occurred just off the coastline in Tōhoku.

The Tōhoku Earthquake is the most powerful earthquake to be recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful in the world. (B. Oskin. September 2017).

What makes this disaster a complex disaster is because the earthquake caused a powerful Tsunami to form which reached heights of up to 40.5 Metres (133ft) in Miyako in Tōhoku. (M. Dörrbecker, 2015).

The Tsunami travelled six miles inland. Bigger impacts on the earth included the shifting of the Honshu Island by 8ft east, moved the axis of the earth between eight and ten centimetres and increased the earths rotational speed by 1.8 microsecond each day. (K. Free, S. Federico, March 2017).

This complex disaster caused 15,896 deaths, 6,157 people injured, and 2,537 people missing across 20 prefectures. The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage, especially to roads, railways & buildings (a total of 121,776 building destroyed, 280,923 buildings partially destroyed, and 726,574 buildings had partially damaged. (K. Pletcher, J. Rafferty, October 2018). The earthquake and tsunami caused many wild fires and a dam collapse.

N. Kan, 2011, prime minister of Japan during the disaster said, “Out of the 65 years after the World War Two, this disaster is the toughest and the most difficult challenge to face Japan”.

The tsunami that happened moments after the earthquake caused further damage to inland nuclear structures and communities. One of which was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the thousands of surrounding residents.

The nuclear complex suffered at least three explosions in their nuclear reactors due to a cooling systems failure from a loss of electrical power which resulted in a build-up of hydrogen gas outside their containment building.

A total six-mile radius around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was evacuated.

The estimated cost of insured losses from the earthquake alone stood between $14.5 and $34.6 billion US dollar. The World Bank estimated that the economical cost stood at staggering cost of $235 billion US dollars. (K. Pletcher, J. Rafferty, October 2018)



During the disaster, NHK – Japans national public broadcaster and the Japan Satellite Television suspended the usual programming to provide updates of the situation. Many other broadcasters also followed such as Tokyo Broadcasting System, CNN on the internet and Fuji TV.

Following the disaster, Japan received response letters or condolences from many international leaders

Humanitarian Aid:

The Result of both the earthquake and the tsunami caused humanitarian crises and impacted the economy greatly. The tsunami caused 340,000 people to be displaced, damage to local wildlife and produce meaning a shortage of food, water (drinkable), shelter and medicine and the common materials to live. (M. Kazama, T. Noda, November 2013).

While many countries aided in the search and rescue side to the humanitarian relief given, aid organisers across and world-wide also helped. The Japanese Red Cross donated $1 billion dollars in aid relief to contribute towards the development in Tōhoku.

163 countries, and 43 organisations offered aid, the total amount given was $320 billion dollars in which 930,000 people aided with support. (M. Kazama, T. Noda, November 2013). Many Government & Non-government organisations helped by either deploying personnel to help with the search & rescue or by donating funding to help redevelopment of the country.

Disaster Management:

As well as giving insight on the science of earthquakes. The aftermath resulted in a reshaping of how Japan responds to complex disasters. Even though Japan has a high-tech warning system, which alerts the general public when an earthquake is most likely going to occur. On this specific occasion, the warning issued was released just after eight seconds after the first earthquake wave hit. It sent messages to 124 television stations, and 52 million mobile phones. It automatically caused elevators to stop and even halted the bullet train. Even though this alert was sent nationally the warnings didn’t reach places like Tokyo which was initially thought to be too far away to be affected but in fact was. (C. Moskowitz, February 2012).

Another issue with the disaster management side was the tsunami warning, which came after the earthquake warning, didn’t reach many coastal residents as they had already evacuated from their residents, or due to power shortages from the earthquake resulting in televisions & radios being cut off from networks.

It is suggested that improvement of the warning system is needed where a quicker warning can be issued to residence across the country including coastal areas. For example, this could be a tsunami siren that could be the main point of tsunami warning for coastal residents. Giving them a more likely chance of survival and opportunity to evacuate to higher ground if necessary. (A. Suppasri, N. Shuto, F. Imamura, et al. Pure Appl. Geophy, (2013) 170: 993.


As you can see by comparing disaster management techniques by both case studies shows a difference in how a fragile countries method of controlling a complex disaster differentiate from a high-tech modern countries’ method.

By comparing the death toll between both the Haiti Earthquake and the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami you can see that a fragile country is more in dire need for aid relief as the local government collapses resulting in mass rioting, lack of lawful acts compared to a more modern country (cleanliness, quick deployment of resources. You can see a significant difference in death toll between both disasters.

Although both disaster management methods are criticised for their warning systems for being non-existent or too late and both countries are advised to reshape their warning methods which could potentially give more people a chance of survival.


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19)  https://www.livescience.com/18592-japan-tohoku-earthquake-lessons-learned.html.


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