Tsunami early warning system moves ahead at UN workshop

Tsunami wreckage

14 June 2006 – More than 130 experts from over 20 countries opened a United Nations-sponsored workshop in Bangkok to push ahead with a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean that could save scores of thousands of lives in a reoccurrence of the catastrophe which killed more than 200,000 people in a dozen countries in 2004.

“The Indian Ocean Tsunami was probably the loudest wake up call in the recent history about the need to strengthen early warning capabilities and to reduce risk and vulnerability globally,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Margareta Wahlström told the opening session of the three-day meeting.

She called on participants “not to rest until every coastal community in the Indian Ocean region, both in Africa and Asia has ready access to early warnings of tsunami.”

Ever since the 2004 tsunami struck, the UN has been at the forefront of efforts to set up early warning systems, not only in the Indian Ocean but in many other vulnerable regions as well. At the time such a system based on quake and tidal sensors, fast communications, alarm networks ranging from radio to cell phones, and disaster preparedness training existed only for Pacific Rim countries.

Had one operated in the Indian Ocean, it would have given hundreds of thousands of people several hours between the time the quake spawned the tsunami off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and its landfall in places like Sri Lanka to flee to higher ground.

“The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 killed over 200,000 people,” UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su said.

“Out of the pain of that period, we have launched a dynamic programme of UN interagency programs, with good progress under the guidance of the IOC Intergovernmental coordination group,” he added, referring to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) which set up the group last year.

The workshop, organized by the UN International Strategy of Disaster Reduction (ISDR), UNESCO/IOC, ESCAP and other regional partners, expects to share experiences of good practices and lessons learned from different countries in their efforts to integrate early warning systems with clear guidance on prevention strategies for governments and a concrete agreement on how to coordinate action in the region.

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