24 January 2005

Bickering threatens tsunami warning system

Differences appeared to be emerging at a United Nations-sponsored conference over plans for a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean region, threatening efforts to quickly put it into place.

More than 225 000 people died in the December 26 tsunami, thousands of whom might have been saved if an early warning system were in place.

Numerous proposals have emerged at the conference in Kobe, Japan, prompting some delegates to say they feared different nations were jockeying for leadership of the high-profile project.

During a special session on the tsunami on Thursday, Germany, France, Japan and the United States were only a few of the nations lining up to make proposals, while India highlighted a system of its own.

The US ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, suggested extending the current Hawaii-based Pacific warning system, which was set up after a 1960 earthquake in Chile triggered a tidal wave that killed more than 100 in Japan and other Pacific nations, while Japan pledged the highest level of support.

Some delegates felt politics could trump generosity, but others acknowledged that Japan, with its long history of earthquakes and tsunamis, had a crucial role to play.

"I think that a competition is sadly possible, as it was in which country donated most," said Walter Ammann, director of the Department of Natural Hazards in Davos, Switzerland.

UN officials, who promised to have the system up and running in 12 to 18 months, have denied the rivalry and say the UN intends to keep on co-ordinating the process over the next weeks and months as the details are worked out.

But many delegates, already worried that an early warning system has overshadowed long-term goals of making disaster reduction a key part of aid to developing nations, said they feared disagreements over the warning system symbolised the differences as a whole.

Many are also concerned that the final statement, due out when the conference ends today, will contain no concrete goals or measures to hold governments accountable for their pledges for either disaster reduction or the early warning system.


Post a Comment

<< Home