UNESCO stands ready to extend tsunami watch system to Indian OceanUNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura has welcomed proposals by several countries to help create a tsunami alert system for the Indian Ocean, similar to the one established by UNESCO to protect the countries of the Pacific.
“The Organization stands ready,” the Director General said, “to share the expertise and know-how gained in the Pacific to set up a similar network in the Indian Ocean, and other major risk areas such as the Caribbean, Southwest Pacific and Mediterranean.”
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) initiated the tsunami alert system for the Pacific in 1968. It remains the only regional tsunami warning system. Over the past five years the IOC has regularly called for the establishment of a similar system for the Indian Ocean and other regions at risk. Member States have not given priority to the proposal because of the relative rarity of tsunami outside the Pacific.
The Organization’s expertise in this domain, Mr Matsuura said, will also be made available to the countries afflicted by the recent catastrophe. The Director-General added that UNESCO’s actions will be guided by decisions taken at the Special ASEAN Leader’s Meeting on Aftermath of Earthquake and Tsunami in Djakarta (Indonesia), on Thursday January 6.
The Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific serves 26 Member States* in the region and has been hailed as one of the most successful international scientific programmes with the direct humanitarian aim of mitigating the effects of tsunami, saving lives and property. Its operational headquarters are located in Hawaii at the International Tsunami Information Centre (ITIC) and the Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC).
Drawing on data from hundreds of seismic stations around the world and some 100 water level stations across the Pacific, the PTWC locates earthquakes throughout the Pacific, verifies and evaluates the severity of any resulting tsunami, and disseminates the information to over 100 points scattered throughout the region. If confirmation of a potentially destructive long-range tsunami is received, the PTWC issues a Pacific-wide warning, alerting all system participants and providing estimated arrival times for key locations. Bulletins containing updated information are issued hourly until the tsunami has crossed the entire Pacific or other evidence is received to indicate there is no further threat.
Agencies in each participating Member State have the ongoing responsibility for educating the public about the dangers of tsunami. They are assisted in this task by the International Tsunami Information Centre (ITIC) which helps Member States set up warning systems and improve tsunami preparedness. The ITIC provides advice on how to improve communications, data networks, data acquisition and information dissemination. It also fosters research on tsunami and on ways to prevent loss of life and damage to property.
“The tragic losses in the Indian Ocean would certainly have been reduced if a similar alert system had been in place, if coastal populations had been aware of the dangers of tsunami and taught what to do when faced with such a threat, and building norms and standards had taken into account the risk of tsunami and earthquakes,” Mr Matsuura said. “Anticipating, educating and informing are the keys to reducing the deadly effect of such natural disasters. Unfortunately such activities have not been given priority.”
According to figures from UNESCO’s Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences, for every $100 spent by the international community on risks and disasters, $96 go towards emergency relief and reconstruction, and only $4 on prevention. Yet, each dollar invested in prevention reduces by up to $25 the losses incurred in the case of natural disasters.
* Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Peru, Republic of the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Samoa, Singapore, Thailand and the United States of America.