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Nurturing the democratic debate.  
Governments urged to strengthen support for North East Atlantic and Mediterranean Tsunami Warning System
Editorial Contact: Sue Williams, Press Relations Section, tel. +33 (0)1 45 68 17 06 - Email

25-05-2006 6:15 am Scientific experts and delegates from 17 countries meeting here this week have urged governments to strengthen support for the establishment of a tsunami early warning system for the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean and connected seas. Progress so far, they said, had been too slow. The experts were attending the second meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Group for the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean Tsunami Early Warning System (ICG/NEAMTWAS), which is responsible for designing and implementing a system that could be used in the event of a tsunami, but also for other natural hazards as well. The meeting, which ended today, was organized by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and hosted by the French Government with support from the Conseil Général des Alpes Maritimes.

The participants pointed out that the region was second only to the Pacific in the frequency of tsunamis, and although they did not occur often, the risk of a destructive local, or region-wide, event was very real.

“The region is densely populated and extensively developed,” said Stefano Tinti (Italy), Chairman of the Coordinating Group. “In the Mediterranean alone, according to UNESCO’s research, 40 percent of the 46,000 kilometres of coastline is already built-up and the expansion is continuing rapidly. By 2025, coastal cities will be home to 90 million people and the area will be visited by some 312 million tourists. In this context, an alert system for tsunamis and other natural hazards should be considered as a minimum insurance policy.”

“We have the different components of a warning system more or less in place,” Mr Tinti said, “but we have yet to bring them together. For example, most of the sea-level gauges in the Mediterranean, do not transmit data in real time and only a few of them are linked. Seismic data is often not available in real-time either. This means that we do not have the capacity to quickly analyse the consequences of a major event or prepare an accurate alert for emergency authorities and local populations.”

“We face a somewhat paradoxical situation,” said Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of the IOC, “Europe, which has most of the elements that would go into a tsunami warning system functioning as we speak, still doesn’t have the system. This is exactly the same situation that we had in the Indian Ocean before the tragic tsunami of December 2004. A stronger commitment from national authorities is needed to identify the responsible agencies that will act as national operational tsunami centres and sustain the medium to long-term awareness and preparedness that is needed to build tsunami-safe communities all along the Mediterranean and North East Atlantic coast.”

The participants stressed that immediate, free and open distribution of raw data from observing systems must be acknowledged as a founding principle for all national, regional and global tsunami warning systems. The recommendations adopted at the close of the meeting also covered the need for long-term funding to upgrade instrument networks, ensure operational costs and finance training; more research to increase knowledge of tsunamis and how they are generated; the establishment of centres that process, validate, analyse and interpret incoming data; and an increased role for local authorities and municipalities, as well as local actors, including the private sector, in implementing the system.

“It would only take one hour for a tsunami to cross the Mediterranean,” said Mr Tinti. “We are aiming for a system that can issue accurate information bulletins within five minutes of an event, and upgrade them after ten or 20 minutes. This requires substantial long-term investment and commitment, but it could also save countless lives and limit terrible destruction.”

The next meeting of the ICG/NEAMTWS will take place in Bonn (Germany) in January 2007.

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Source Press Release No.2006-48

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