UNESCO Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, will announce UNESCO’s Global Strategy for the Establishment of a Tsunami Early Warning System, including the one for the Indian Ocean, during the United Nations International Meeting on Small Island Developing States, which opened here today. “One of the many lessons we must learn from the Indian Ocean catastrophe is that tsunami can strike wherever there is a coastline”, said Mr Matsuura in Paris on the eve of his departure for Mauritius. “Minimizing their impact requires cooperation and collaboration between a range of partners that go beyond the borders of any one State. Any early warning system, to be truly effective, must therefore be global in scope.”
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) initiated the tsunami warning system for the Pacific in 1968, and has been arguing the need for an alert system for the Indian Ocean for several years. However, Member States did not consider the issue urgent, given the rarity of tsunami in the region (the last one was recorded over a century ago), the lack of resources in many countries, a long list of other priorities, and the fact that 85% of the world’s tsunami occur in the Pacific.
Mr Matsuura welcomed the proposal from the meeting of ASEAN leaders in Jakarta last week envisaging the establishment of a tsunami warning system in the region, and the offers made by several countries to support such a project. But, he pointed out that there are many other regions at risk, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the South West Pacific.
UNESCO stands ready, he said, to lend the experience and expertise gained in the Pacific over the past 40 years to the provision of a global warning system, and to ensure coordination amongst international partners to avoid duplication.
Any such system goes far beyond the installation of seismic equipment to measure and pinpoint earthquakes. This equipment is already largely in place right around the globe, reminded Mr Matsuura. Experts as far away as Hawaii and Vienna knew that the earthquake had taken place off the coast of Sumatra on December 26, immediately after it had occurred.
“What is missing are the communication networks, public awareness and national disaster planning that are essential to alert populations quickly, to teach people what they can do to help themselves, to rapidly evacuate threatened areas and to look after the immediate needs of the wounded or displaced,” said the Director-General.
Each type of natural disaster also has its own particularities, said Mr Matsuura, and therefore requires a different response. In this regard, there cannot be a “one-size fits all” alert system, he said. “People need to know about all of the possible risks they face, and what they can do to save their lives and limit the damage when disaster strikes,” he added. “This means that governments must also understand different risks and be ready to respond to each situation.”
The Mauritius International Meeting is organized by the United Nations and its agencies, including UNESCO, to review the implementation of a programme of action for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), agreed upon at a global conference in Barbados ten years ago.
More than 2,000 delegates from at least 110 countries, including the world’s 51 Small Island Developing States, are attending the meeting, along with United Nations partners, donor agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups.