13 January 2005

Tsunami warning system will cost millions

The United Nations should be ready to launch a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean by June 2006, with the rest of the world to follow a year later, the official in charge of the programme said on Wednesday.

The Indian Ocean system will cost about $30-million (about R170-million), with most of that paid by donor nations, said Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

"If everything goes according to plan, the initial system should, provisionally, be put in place by June 2006," Matsuura told a news conference.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has championed a worldwide tsunami warning system and donors have been willing to fund it since the disastrous December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The alert system has taken centre stage at a UN conference on small island problems, held this week in the Mauritian capital.

Thousands of the 156 000 tsunami victims may have been spared had warning reached countries like Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Somalia before the wave struck.

"We have to have international funding, but the affected countries themselves must make maximum efforts," Matsuura said.

That would include spending money to set up their own local warning systems and alert centres, and helping educate their residents on what to do when a warning comes, he said.

The June 2006 target date was tentative and would only be for the basic internationally-supplied parts of the system, he said. The needed country-level work may lag behind, he said.

"You should not assume that all these requirements would be met by then," Matsuura said.


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