UN tsunami relief envoy Clinton renews call for effective warning system

Former US President Bill Clinton

25 July 2005 – After a powerful earthquake shook India's Andaman and Nicobar islands yesterday, former United States President Bill Clinton, the United Nations Special Envoy overseeing recovery efforts from last December's devastating tsunami in the region, renewed his call on governments in and around the Indian Ocean to step up their efforts to create an effective early warning system.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are in the Indian Ocean between India and Thailand, and were severely damaged in last year's tsunami, which killed nearly a quarter of a million people overall and displaced millions more across 12 countries in the region.

Mr. Clinton addressed the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) earlier this month after returning from a visit to the region. He stressed the need for the early completion of an early warning system, as well as more focus on disaster risk awareness education.

The UN meanwhile continues to press ahead with efforts lay the groundwork for an early warning framework for the region, and in late June, launched the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS) at the 23rd Assembly of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) in Paris, with the establishment of an Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) to govern it.

The system, work on which has already begun, is expected to be fully operational by July 2006. Based on quake and tidal sensors, speedy communications, alarm networks from radio to cell phones, and disaster preparedness training in vulnerable regions it will give people time to flee to higher ground before the waves strike.

In December, several hours passed between the quake that spawned the tsunami and landfall of the killer waves, wasting precious time in which scores of thousands could have fled out of their pathway. At present such an early warning system exists only in the Pacific region.

The Indian Ocean ICG, to be made up of the IOC's Member States, will be supported by a secretariat, provided by the IOC, in Perth, Australia. The Group is expected to hold its first meeting from 3 to 5 August.

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