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Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System Launched

Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System Formally Launched at UN Meeting

New York, Jun 30 2005 10:00AM

A United Nations commission today formally launched a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean and laid the groundwork for similar initiatives around the world’s seas, haunted by the realization that such an operation could have saved tens of thousands of lives lost in last December’s disaster in South Asia.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS) formally came into existence 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 IOC also adopted resolutions establishing similar bodies for the Caribbean and adjacent regions as well as the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas.

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 waves that killed more than 200,000 people, 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.

Welcoming today’s development UNESO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura encouraged participants “to maintain the momentum that has allowed a great deal of progress to be achieved in a few short months.” He pledged his agency’s continued support to Member States “in their efforts to provide the best possible protection for their populations against tsunamis and other ocean-related hazards.”

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.

In a fast-track effort to detect a tsunami after a strong earthquake in the Indian Ocean, the IOC has overseen the installation or upgrading of tide gauges, which are already transmitting real-time information.

ENDS

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