On December 26, 2004, at 7:58 am local time an undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1 approximately 160 km west of the shores of Sumatra (Indonesia) and 30 km below the sea surface triggered tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. They hit the coasts of countries East and West of the epicenter, among them Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh and reaching as far as Somalia and Tanzania on the African coastline over 6000 km away.
The coastal populations of the affected countries were hit the hardest, suffering deaths, injuries, displacement and the destruction of their livelihoods. Indonesia was affected most, with an estimated number of 170,000 casualties and approximately 500,000 displaced people. The following cartogram shows the distribution of the estimated 230,273 deaths allocated to the country where the deaths occurred, making each country as large as its total share of the people who dies at the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami:
There are very particular demographic patterns to the deaths: According to an Oxfam report, four times more women were killed than men, as they were waiting on beaches for fishermen to return, or at home looking after their children at the time the tsunami hat.
But among the victims were also people from abroad, though they count for a small share of the hundreds of thousands who died: a number of 2,307 is reported to have died or gone missing, most of them tourist who went to South-East Asia for their Christmas holidays. The largest share of citizens from abroad reported dead were from Western Europe. Sweden alone lost 554 citizens in the disaster (counting for 58.10 deaths per one million inhabitants, the largest share of a foreign country compared to their population), while Germany had 539 identified victims (6.75 deaths per million inhabitants). The following map shows this share of countries that lost citizens while abroad:
The large number of people from the wealthier parts of the world having been among the victims is perhaps also one of the reasons for the large international attention and intensive humanitarian aid efforts. These also included unusually high donations of the public in the countries that have seen a high number of victims from their own citizens. It was one of the first major natural disasters that were broadcast via social media all across the globe. The international community provided aid over US$ 7 billion for the affected areas (). Aid also involved the implementation of an early warning system in the region, which 10 years after the event is fully operating to prevent the populations in the region from suffering similar casualty counts in future.
Wealthy nations being affected in considerable numbers certainly helped to not only be part of the media attention for a long time (and being very prominent now, 10 years on), as catastrophes in similar or even higher dimensions often fade out of global attention much faster. In the list of the 10 worst natural disasters by death toll the 2004 Tsunami comes eighth, surpassed by much less talked about events such as the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China with an estimated 242,000 to 655,000 deaths, or the 1931 China floods with 1 to 4 million people believed to have died.
Beyond the individual’s tragedies for the families of the 2,307 deaths and missing from countries that lost citizens while abroad, and the over 230,000 deaths, there are also the long-term consequences for more than 1.74 million people who were displaced as a result of the Tsunami (and which in most cases could not have been prevented from an early warning system as this would not prevent livelihoods from being destroyed).
The following map shows the share of these more than 1.74 million displaced people in each of the countries showing that these patterns are slightly different from the deaths as the waves caused much damage over long stretches of the densely populated areas of India and Sri Lanka who in their death toll were (though still in their tens of thousands) less affected than Indonesia: