Recognizing that tsunamis are a global threat, the United Nations has designated November 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day.
Tsunamis are rare. But they can be extremely deadly. In the past 100 years, more than 260,000 people have perished in 58 separate tsunamis. At an average of 4,600 deaths per disaster, the toll has surpassed any other natural hazard.
Such a stark impact isn’t inevitable, however. Early warning systems can save lives. Equally important is community and individual understanding about how and where to evacuate before a wave strikes.
Tsunamis know no borders, making international cooperation key for deeper political and public understanding of risk reduction measures. As a result, the UN General Assembly has made 5 November into World Tsunami Awareness Day, with the first edition being held this year.
This date was chosen to honor the brave actions of a Japanese farmer and village chief credited with saving hundreds of lives from a tsunami in 1854. After recognizing the signs of a tsunami, he set fire to his harvested rice to attract the attention of villagers near the coast. As the villagers rushed to help, he told them to keep moving up the hill to safety, where they watched the tsunami destroy their village. His story is a good example of how knowledge saves lives.