UNESCO appeals to Indian Ocean nations and donors to maintain momentum in building tsunami early warning systemThe earthquake that struck Sumatra, Indonesia, on March 28, has reinforced the need for a comprehensive, durable tsunami early warning system that will provide the accurate real-time information required by national authorities to properly warn and protect their populations, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said today.
“We cannot afford to cut corners,” Mr Matsuura said. “A reliable system requires far more than seismic instruments that tell us when and where an earthquake has struck. It also requires the instruments, such as tide gauges, and know-how that can evaluate the risk of a tsunami and where it is likely to hit as well as well-established communication networks for passing that information to national and local authorities in those zones at risk.”
Since December 26, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) has been working intensely with its Member States, and especially Indian Ocean countries, to put a tsunami early warning system into place. Agreement for an immediate, interim measure was reached at a meeting of some 300 governmental experts held at UNESCO Headquarters from March 3-8. Under this system, coordinated by UNESCO/IOC, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre provide information advisories based on seismic activity in the Indian Ocean. Yesterday, messages were sent to all available addresses in the Indian Ocean with the precise magnitude, time and location of the new earthquake, prompting many countries to issue evacuation orders in zones considered to be at risk.
The March meeting also agreed on the installation of six new sea-level gauges in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand and the upgrading of 15 others placed throughout the Indian Ocean basin. The installation of deep ocean bottom pressure centres is also in the planning.
The blueprint for the permanent system is expected to be further refined at a second expert meeting to be held in Mauritius from April 14-16, and finalized at the IOC General Assembly to be held in June.
“Monday’s earthquake demonstrated the vast improvement in communication channels since the December tsunami,” Mr Matsuura said. “However there is still a long way to go. This latest tragedy has again stressed the need for information that is as accurate as possible if the widespread fear and panic that seized many communities still traumatized by December’s events is to be avoided.
“The international community, along with regional and national authorities have a duty to do their utmost to work together and to implement such a system as quickly as possible,” he concluded.