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Set up tsunami warning systems: UN

April 19, 2005 08:54 IST

Warning that the risk of another tsunami hitting is real, a top United Nations official has called on the Indian Ocean countries to "really" commit themselves to setting up an early warning system within the next 14 months.

Pointing out that a warning system could have saved tens of thousands of lives when the tsunami hit in December, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Koichiro Matsuura said nature has alerted the world once again that there is no place for complacency.

He was referring to the severe earthquake which struck Indonesia in March which did not produce a tsunami though it had the potential of doing so.

"We still did not have any way of detecting the presence of a tsunami in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean," he noted in a message to an international conference discussing the issue.

Over 200,000 people were killed in the December 26 tsunami disaster which caused billions of dollars worth of damage and left five million people without homes and a means of a livelihood.

Unlike the massive waves caused by an undersea quake in December, the quake of March 28 killed several hundred people and caused widespread damage, but did not generate a tsunami.

Matsuura told the Second International Coordination Meeting for the Development of a Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System for the Indian Ocean, which ended over the weekend: "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," he added.

They can do this by immediately identifying country contacts for receiving tsunami information, he said. So far, 16 countries in the region have designated such contacts.

A full tsunami early warning system, based on quake and tidal sensors, speedy communications, alarm networks and disaster preparedness training in vulnerable regions, giving people time to flee to higher ground before the giant waves strike, exists at present only for the Pacific Rim area.

Matsuura reiterated his conviction that such a mechanism 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 one for the Indian Ocean by June 2006 is "realistic," he said.

The meeting discussed how national tsunami warning centres can work in a regional operational framework, clarifying the responsibilities of countries and national, subregional and regional centres.

"Effective early warning systems need strong technical foundations, but they also need sustained efforts on public awareness, education and national disaster risk policies and planning. This will be the next challenge," said the Director of the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Salvano Briceqo. "Education is a key factor to success," he stressed.

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