17 May 2005

Tsunami nations agree to set up early warning system

Donor nations have agreed to set up a 5.5-million-dollar tsunami early warning system for 27 Indian Ocean countries. The system will start operating within the next six months.

Finland, India, Belgium, Norway, Australia, Germany, China, Italy and the United States have agreed to provide the funding.

They made the commitment during a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Grand-Baie, Mauritius, last month.

Meeting just a stone's throw from the ocean, delegates from 34 countries recalled the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in south-east Asia along the Indian Ocean's shores. Seeking to prevent similar loss of life and property, the 200 participants agreed to set up a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean nations.

The first step in creating such a system, said Patricio Bernal, the executive secretary of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), would be to identify each country's focal point for receiving seismic information on earthquakes.

Each country will receive provisional information on tsunamis from the two IOC centres in Hawaii, the United States, and Tokyo, Japan. The information will be relayed for broadcast every ten to 15 minutes, he added.

The next step will be to install tide gauges to monitor changes in sea level and to exchange data at five minute intervals. Mauritius set up such a system last month in Port-Louis and Rodrigues, which is expected to benefit the whole of east Africa.

"Setting up such a system with the available scientific and technical capabilities costs between a million and 20 or 30 million dollars for a more sophisticated system. But the biggest investment will be for each country to train qualified personnel to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year in order to detect arriving tsunamis and warn the population," Bernal explained.

Bernal said the effectiveness of such a system depends largely on the countries themselves. The challenges will, however, be enormous "because the arrival time of tsunamis cannot be predicted," he warned.

"We hope to protect these countries because the economic consequence of tsunamis is disastrous and reconstruction takes years. They cause more serious damage than economic crises. They're not something we can take lightly," Bernal emphasised.

According to him, having no global protection against tsunamis is like having no insurance, though large tsunamis are rare. They are generally limited to a 100-kilometre length of coastline and affect only a local population. There were eight tsunamis in Indonesia between 1992 and 2000, which killed about 5,000 people, Bernal said.

He urged governments and support groups to train residents in tsunami awareness so that they know what to do in case of an alert. Hospitals also need to be prepared for such disasters, which was the most crucial missing element during the Dec. 26 tsunami in Asia, Bernal stated.

According to experts, two sources of tsunamis can affect the coasts of Indian Ocean countries. One is in the Indonesian seismic area, which is 4,000 kilometres long. The other is at Makran, near Pakistan.

Already Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are developing their technical capacities to detect, analyze, and provide alerts about tsunamis generated in the Indonesian zone. India, Iran and Pakistan will monitor the Makran region.

From the Pacific, the area most at risk for tsunamis, the director of the Pacific Tsunami Early Warning System, Laura Kong says she will provide expertise to the Indian Ocean countries. She will initially provide a list of controls to these countries so they know what to do in case of alert.

IOC president Francois Scindele told IPS that delegates to a UNESCO meeting held in Paris in March called for national alert centres to be established in the Indian Ocean countries. "The meteorological stations in these countries will be responsible for receiving data and alerting the population," he said. However, he added, the decision whether or not to evacuate people along the coast will be made by each country's own authorities.

In their declaration, the delegates said that regional efforts would serve to strengthen international cooperation for creating a global alert system for different natural catastrophe risks. They also applauded Indian Ocean countries' plans to improve their ability to receive information and appropriate warnings about tsunamis.

IOC expects all assessments for sustainable early warning systems to be completed by each country by June. This will be followed by the development of appropriate national strategic plans.

The participants also called for the IOC to pass a resolution at their June 21-30 meeting in Paris to create an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System and an intergovernmental coordinating body.

For Mauritians, not affected by either the Dec. 26 tsunami or the Mar. 28, 2004 tsunami in Sumatra, Indonesia, the decisions made at the UNESCO meeting bring hope.

Rajesh Guttea, a resident of Trou-aux-Biches, a seaside village on the northern side of the island, recalled, "We barely felt anything on Dec. 26, but on the night of Mar. 28 thousands of Mauritians living on the coast and many tourists were terrified. I saw them running around madly, fleeing to higher ground at 3 o'clock in the morning when the hotels evacuated the tourists. It was the kind of a general stampede we've never seen here before on the island".

"Thankfully", Guttea told IPS, the tsunami never came, "but it was a good drill. Now Mauritians know what to do and what precautions to take in case of an alert". The earthquake reminded everyone that another tsunami could strike at any time, he added.

UNESCO director-general Koichiro Matsuura said: "Tsunami risks are real; we cannot allow ourselves to be unprepared in case a disaster like this strikes again. Nature has warned us."

Source: www.allafrica.com


At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Partha sarathy said...

University & Society
Every University has a vital role in the transformation of the society at large. To quote the words of Sudeep Jain former District Collector of Nagapattinam and a proud alumnus of BITS, Pilani: "While most of us live for ourselves, it is also true that each of us do want to contribute to
society at large. This is the time to realize our broader goals by
contributing generously, sharing knowledge and ideas and leveraging our networks to devise innovative solutions. The cumulative effect of these ideas is what has emerged as collective inspiration for launching the BITSunami project". The students, faculty and alumni of BITS Pilani saw the Tsunami not only as a tragedy, but also as an opportunity to devote themselves to a massive re-building exercise. When it comes to nation building exercsie, BITS Pilani will always be Number One as the reputation of a university is not made on admission and placement statistics but by the quality of human beings it has produced for the nation and society at large.


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