Despite reaching heights of >6 m and destroying a sizeable coastal settlement at the head of Baie Martelli (Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, South Pacific), the 26 November 1999 tsunamis caused only five fatalities from a threatened population of about 300 persons, most of whom fled inland and upslope before the waves struck. This remarkable survival rate is attributed to both indigenous knowledge, largely in the form of kastom knowledge, and information obtained from a video about tsunamis that was shown in the area three weeks earlier. Interviews with 55 persons who experienced this tsunami suggest that indigenous knowledge about tsunami risk and response in Baie Martelli was well known among key members of the community and was probably largely responsible for the appropriate response. Future strategies for disaster risk reduction should involve maintaining such indigenous knowledge in such communities and supplementing this where needed with scientific knowledge filtered through indigenous culture and language.
International Journal of Disaster Risk Science / Vol. 3, No. 4, pp.185-194