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Tsunami Kills Dozens on Small Pacific Island

September 30, 2009

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake today and hit the islands of Samoa. The death toll is 17 so far, but likely to rise. Though this doesn’t sound that high, consider that the population of Samoa is barely over 200,000 (approximately 280,000 if you include American Samoa). So by the most generous estimates this is the equivalent of an event killing approximately 18,000 Americans.

This kind of vulnerability faced by low-lying island nations brings to mind the speech given recently at the United Nations by Mohammed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, articulating climate change as a human rights issue – one particularly threatening the environmental and human security of such countries. Many of these nations are literally at risk of being wiped off the map if more fortunate world governments fail to come to consensus at Copenhagen this year over strategies for stemming climate change.

UPDATE: I first posted this last night; as of this morning, AP reports the death toll is “at least” 99: proportional to the population of the islands, that’s the equivalent of approximately 137,000 Americans.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.