MADRID – The chance of a tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea in the next 30 years with waves over a metre high and 700 metres deep and with potentially “catastrophic” consequences is “very high”, according to statistics collected by UNESCO.
There’s not a 100% chance of it happening. However, the possibility is very likely and we need to be prepared for it,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, the secretary of the UNESCO Oceanographic Commission (IOC).
Currently, UNESCO recognises 40 coastal areas from 21 countries as prepared to undergo a tsunami. This issue will feature at the United Nations (UN) Ocean Summit to be held in Lisbon from June 27.
Preparing Coastal Areas for Tsunamis
During the Ocean Summit, the “Tsunami Ready” initiative will play an important role. This aims to prepare coastal communities for tsunamis in all regions of the world. In the case of the Mediterranean region, experts warn that authorities underestimate the tsunami risk. Consequently, this is leaving the population living there unaware of the risks.
The Tsunami-Ready project is funded by the EU and started in 2020 on the Greek island of Kos. A small tsunami there in 2017 was the reason. Therefore, now UNESCO wants to bring this training and conservation initiative to all coastal communities around the world.
“The goal is to have 100% of coastal areas prepared for a tsunami. Many of them are sensitive areas and need to be prepared for this threat,” explains Bernardo Aliaga. He is a specialist in the tsunami program of the IOC-UNESCO.
Training programs and risk areas
Under this initiative, training programs for the population are being set up to deal with these types of natural disasters. It takes into account a series of criteria to assess the risks in each area. Below are the socio-economic level of the communities and the composition of the land or vegetation.
Spain and the tsunami risk
The Gulf of Cadiz, northern Algeria, and North Africa are fault zones and therefore “high risk” seismically. The working group of the Hydraulic Institute of the University of Cantabria (IH Cantabria), led by Mauricio González, is preparing the coastal municipality of Chipiona in the province of Cadiz. Together with the municipal council, they are working to ensure that Chipiona obtains the ‘Tsunami Ready’ certificate. This entails recognition from UNESCO for optimal preparation in the event of a tsunami.
Now no municipality is well prepared
González tells in 20Minutos.es that the Spanish coastal municipalities need to calculate the risk of a tsunami. Furthermore, they must draw up action protocols in case one occurs. So far, he says, no municipality has been prepared to respond properly to a tsunami warning.
Risk areas in Spain
The researcher explains that the areas most exposed to the impact of a tsunami are all the coasts of Spain, except Asturias and Cantabria. In those two northern Spanish coastal areas, the impact would be much less. There are no fault lines. However, there are in the Gulf of Cadiz, in the north of Algeria and North Africa.
Besides the Gulf of Cadiz as the highest risk area in Spain, other coasts can also be hit by a tsunami. These are the Costa del Sol, which includes a large part of Andalucia and provinces such as Málaga. There is also a reasonable chance of a tidal wave after a seaquake on the Costa Tropical in Granada, the Costa de Almería, and the Costa Cálida in Murcia.
Since 2021 there is a warning system in Spain
The government of Spain approved the civil protection plan against the risk of tidal waves in May 2021. According to the text published in the Government Gazette (BOE), it is “a tidal wave warning system. It should warn civil defence authorities and public emergency services of the potential threat, as well as civilians that may be affected”.
Tsunami Warning System from IGN
In addition, the National Geographic Institute (IGN) in Spain also has an operational Tsunami Warning System. It issues a warning message to the population in case of risk. Nevertheless, according to González, a more concrete action plan is needed in the municipalities that could be affected by a tsunami.
Gulf of Cadiz is a “high-risk area”
The Gulf of Cadiz is a “high risk” area, according to González. It is close to several earthquake faults where the Eurasian tectonic plate is separated from the African one. Spain suffered the effects of the Lisbon earthquake as early as 1755n, deep in the sea off the coast. The ensuing tidal wave caused a tsunami that severely damaged the coasts of the provinces of Huelva and Cádiz. More than 2,000 people were killed along the Andalusian coast.
Chipiona is the only municipality that will be well prepared later
For this reason, González’s working group decided to contact the Municipality of Chipiona to start a pilot of the Tsunami-Ready program there. “We are studying all the steps that need to be taken to prepare the municipality, both the administrative part and the population and emergency services. This plan will then guide other municipalities in the preparation,” explains González.
Within the project, for example, maps have been drawn to provide insight into which areas in the municipality are at the greatest risk of flooding during a tidal wave. Based on this, evacuation plans and routes are prepared and safe areas are established.
The working group is also working with the Junta de Andalucía, the IGN, and the Civil Defence to see how the warnings arrive at the municipalities and to put the protocol into practice.” Other indicators are related to public awareness and coordination of emergency services.
The pilot project also useful for other coastal municipalities
The mayor of Chipiona emphasizes that the project is not only important because it can save lives in Chipiona, but also in more municipalities when they have passed on all their knowledge and results. “We have held several online meetings with mayors of other cities such as Chiclana, Cádiz, Rota, and even some from the Algarve. Our idea is to continue holding such meetings with Portugal, Morocco, and the Canary Islands, which are also at risk of being hit by a tsunami”.