- Development & Aid
- Economy & Trade
- Human Rights
- Global Governance
- Civil Society
Thursday, December 5, 2013
- United Nations experts have announced an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean to be launched in Julio. But there is still much to do. ''We are worried the importance of rehabilitating the local communities is being sidelined in this process,'' say NGOs. An early warning system for sea quakes in the Indian Ocean could be up and running in July, according to United Nations experts.
But there is still a great deal to do before achieving that goal, which is seen as crucial since the Dec. 26 tsunami that claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people and left millions homeless in South and Southeast Asia.
''The weakest link is not instrumental, but rather the commitment by governments to endorse a warning system and extend it to the grassroots level,'' says Patricio Bernal, executive secretary of the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
The IOC is entrusted with coordinating the building of the system, which won the backing of donor countries during the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, held Jan. 18-22 in the southwestern Japanese city of Kobe.
Tsunamis are giant waves generated by quakes or other major movements in the seabed. Once they reach land they wield incredible destructive power. Millions of people lost their homes to Dec. 26 tsunami, which hit the coasts of Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Thailand, as well as the numerous islands scattered throughout the Indian Ocean.
Bernal told the conference that technology is not the problem in setting up a warning system. Data has already been collected by scientists working on the Pacific Ocean tsunami warning system, based in Hawaii and set up with Japanese and U.S. technology.
The Pacific system operates based on water pressure sensors at the bottom of the ocean that send signals to buoys on the surface, alerting about potential tsunamis. The signals are sent via satellite to the early warning centers.
The cost of setting up a similar system in the Indian Ocean is estimated at 13 million dollars, and guidelines are to be established during a meeting of international experts in Paris in March, coordinated by the IOC.
A key part of the early warning is that governments themselves will be involved in the monitoring and development as well as building a close working partnership that shares data and pursues transparency, and involves local communities.
Teams will be sent to the Indian Ocean basin countries to assist in the formulation of national action plans that would include disaster preparation on the ground, such as evacuation plans and the building of shelters.
Many UN experts are calling for the creation of a global warning system to reinforce the development of a culture of disaster reduction at the community level.
In Bernal's opinion, an early warning system in the Indian Ocean could be perfected and expanded to the global scale by 2010.
''It's quite simple. The goal is that all communities must have access to an early warning system that covers not only tsunami in the Indian Ocean but also other disasters such as drought and floods that plague developing countries,'' Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs told a press conference last week.
Japan, host to the conference and a leader in earthquake and tsunami detection technology to deal with its own active seismology, has already earmarked its huge official budget to support the early warning system.
Such a system ''must take into account the voices of vulnerable groups,'' says Ranitha Wijethunga, Sri Lankan project manager for Intermedia Technology Development Group, a non-governmental organization covering South Asia and now working on relief with tsunami survivors.
''There is a lot of talk of high technology for a warning system among the rich countries and we are worried the importance of rehabilitating the local communities is being sidelined in this process,'' she said.
''It is only by long-term support programs in rural areas that are the worst hit by natural disasters that success can be achieved,'' said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
UNEP is spearheading the inclusion of the concept of ecological rehabilitation that acts as a buffer in natural disasters such as mangroves, sea grass and forests that have proved to reduce the impact of disasters and saved lives.
Mangroves work better than dikes, as the trees have proved capable of reducing the power of huge waves, said Toepfer.
In a bid to put forward a concrete environmental program to reduce disaster, UNEP is currently conducting assessment studies on the damage caused by the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, two of the hardest hit countries.
Toepfer announced that an environmental disaster center will be established in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Delegates from developing countries agree with this focus. Indian government delegate Ashoka Rastogi pointed out in his address to the conference the importance of dealing with every emerging disaster risk, including human-made hazards that can be caused by industrial chemicals. He called for public education about the importance of a ''safe society''.
Shivanuth Balkaran, of Trinidad, talked about the need to include climate change in the discussion of an early warning system, pointing out how small island states in the Caribbean and in seas around the world are extremely vulnerable to tsunamis.