Towards a tsunami early warning system : No place for complacency says UNESCO Director-GeneralUNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura has urged the countries of the Indian Ocean basin and donor nations to “really commit themselves” to the establishment and implementation of a tsunami warning system for the region.
The Director-General made his call in a message presented on his behalf to participants attending the Second International Coordination Meeting for the Development of a Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System for the Indian Ocean underway at Grand Baie in Mauritius. The meeting is evaluating progress towards the system, which should be in place by June 2006.
“Nature has alerted us once again that there is no place for complacency,” Mr Matsuura said, referring to the severe earthquake that struck a string of islands off Sumatra in Indonesia on March 28, killing several hundred people and causing widespread damage.
Although information on the earthquake was quickly transmitted by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and the Japanese Meteorological Agency, “we still did not have any way of detecting the presence of a tsunami in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean,” continued the Director-General.
“The risk of tsunami is real and we cannot afford to be unprepared in case a major disaster occurs. […] I therefore urge all governments participating in this initiative, especially those that were not affected and where the urgency to act might seem like an exaggerated over-reaction, to really commit themselves.” They can do this, he said, by immediately identifying country contacts for receiving tsunami information.
So far, sixteen countries in the region have designated such contacts.
Mr Matsuura also reiterated his conviction that a robust, effective and durable tsunami warning system should be “fully embedded in the global operational ocean observing system that is regularly used for other related hazards, such as storm surges and cyclones.”
The goal of achieving such a system for the Indian Ocean by June 2006 is “realistic” said the Director-General, “under the condition of using the existing networks of instrumentation and communication links, working on their immediate upgrading and establishing national warning centers as a first priority.”
The Prime Minister of Mauritius, Paul Raymond Berenger, who formally opened the meeting today, echoed Mr Matsuura’s concerns. “Procrastination,” he said “could result in more loss of life, material damage and irreversible negative impacts.”
The Prime Minister also stressed the importance of international cooperation, sharing the view of Mr Matsuura that the system should be built on a “foundation of international cooperation in accordance with the principle of open, free and unrestricted exchange of data and information.”
Mr Matsuura, Prime Minister Berenger and the Director of the Inter-Agency Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR), Salvano Briceno, all called on donors to maintain the spirit of commitment and support the work underway. Mr Briceno gave particular thanks to the governments of Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany as well as to the European Commission for their “tremendous efforts” and encouraged all donors to “go that extra mile and cover the requirements that have been identified” to put a fully functional system in place.
The meeting, which has heard reports from the Indian Ocean nations on the work undertaken so far, is due to end tomorrow (April 16) with a call to donors and the presentation of project proposals.