Written by U Ne Oo on 2005-02-08

There are some in the Burmese activist/exile community skeptical about the number of tsunami victim from Burma being extremely low (about 90 deaths, according to official reports). The giant wave had hit hard expecially on Indonesian Aceh, Sri Lanka and Part of Southern Thailand. The impact of tsunami wave even reached to eastern coast of Africa. When we normally look at the coastal map of Indian Ocean/Bay of Bangal, Burma has the longest exposure to the coastline. Why then, some might wonder, Burma has very little impact compare to others ? Is it because of usually secrative military junta controlling information about the devestation ?

In this case, we can give some benefit of doubt to the official report by military junta which indicate relatively low impact of the tsunami that may be reasonably acceptable. This is because of particular nature of the tsunami waves.


Soon after tsunami struck Asia, I have had conversation with some Oceanographers here about such wave. By nature, the tsunami waves are different from the surface waves, which caused by cyclones or high winds. Tsunami waves, as you well know now, was created by sizeable movement of the ocean floor. As such, tsunami wave are being created at great energy.

You can guestimate the amount of energy for such a wave by thinking that, say, you lifting 1-meter up of water volume that is one square meter base and equivalent hight of ocean floor to the surface. The energy required (for lifting 1sq meter) is already huge by everyday standards. Eventual ocean floor movement that caused tsunami waves are several square kilometers [650 mile X 10 meter fault line, as some estimates]. As such, the tsunami wave was created with an enormous amount of energy.

As in the principle of physics, the energy created somewhere will not disappear or be suppressed automatically. This wave energy (wave front) travel across the ocean with the speed SquareRoot(G*H) [G=gravity 10 m/s2 , H=the depth of ocean). Therefore, the velocity of the wave front is very high [700km/h, some estimates], proportional to depth.

The energy transported through the ocean can only see its dissipation when the wave front hits the shore lines. The manner in which tsunami wave can be destructive depend on the shape of shore lines. If the shore line allows the tsunami wave to dissipate smoothly, it does so. For some shore line structures, the tsunami wave had to end abrouptly. In consequence, the energy it transported had to transformed into a surface wave with a high amplitude. The greater the initial energy, the higher the amplitude in this case.

The tsunami wave doesn't have noticeable high amplitude in the middle of the ocean [may be 1 meter high, but travel with high velocity]. For this reason, as tsunami comes, the boat owners must drive their vessels into the deeper ocean to avoid the damages. (For people, better climb up the hills, so to speak.)

The reason why tsunami didn't hit Burma coastline as hard, probably, is because of the shore line geography. This, of course, is my hypothesis to it still. But this puzzle would have been a good simulation exercise for the students of geography/ocenography/computing.

Regards, U Ne Oo.



February 1, 2005, Issue # 2647 OPINION / OTHER

January 31, Irrawaddy Giant fish save Burma from tsunami

Humor is one of the few things that make life in Burma bearable for those who have suffered under the military dictatorship.

Now Burmese find irony in a tale spawned by the recent tsunami catastrophe. The country suffered only light damage compared to neighbors Thailand and Indonesia.

"Stop! We've already destroyed the place ourselves."

Many Burmese in Rangoon believe they know why.

The miraculous tale of how the country escaped from the deadly tidal waves goes like this: when the first waves were about to hit the shores of the Irrawaddy delta, three giant fish suddenly rose from the waters.

The three fish--Nga Shwe, Nga Htwe and Nga Mann--stopped the waves and ordered them to turn back.

The tidal waves were surprised by the abrupt appearance of the three huge fish but insisted on striking the shore anyway.

Again, the fish commanded the waves to turn back immediately.

The tidal waves asked why. One fish answered: "This is enough. We have already destroyed the country."

Sympathizing with the people of Burma, the colossal waves receded. Burma was saved the tsunami's full fury.

This political satire is wildly popular among Burmese in Rangoon these days. The three fish are none other than the country's top leaders, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Dep Snr-Gen Maung Aye, and Gen Thura Shwe Mann. The destruction the fish refer to, of course, is the destruction the military junta has inflicted on the nation.

In Burma, humor seems to be one of the things the regime fears most.

Political jokes are banned, and comedians who dare to take a stab at the generals and the country's situation are put behind bars.

Nevertheless Burmese still enjoy sharing jokes and poking fun at the generals. Major national and international events provide ample fodder for mocking the country's military leadership and momentarily relieving the people's suffering.

While Burma almost escaped the tsunami, the tsunami did not escape the Burmese wit. According to a report released by foreign aid agencies, compared to neighboring countries, the force of the tsunami was very much reduced when it reached the coast of Burma.

Consequently, the death toll in Burma was surprisingly low, only 59 according to government figures, while UN agencies and international NGOs put it between 60 and 80.

"The particular topography of the southern and delta coastlines, as well as the rocky nature of the islands, provided physical protection for the population," the report said.

Why Tsunami impact on Burma may be small