The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System will be launched during the 23rd Session of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Assembly, to be held at the Organization’s Headquarters from June 21 to 30. The Assembly, which meets every two years, comprises all 131 IOC Member States and is the Commission’s supreme decision-making body. During the June session, it will approve the Plan of Action for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System and establish an Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) to govern it.
The ICG will include representatives from the 27 Indian Ocean countries supported by a secretariat provided by UNESCO-IOC. It is expected to hold its first meeting shortly after the IOC Assembly.
The framework for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System was established at two IOC-organized coordination meetings attended by countries from the region, donor nations and institutional partners. They agreed that the system will consist of “a coordinated network of national systems”, whose assets would be “owned and operated by the Member States hosting or otherways taking responsibility for them”.
Since the December 26 tsunami, the IOC and its partners have set up an interim system for the Indian Ocean basin, with tsunami advisory information provided by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and the Japanese Meterological Agency. The permanent system, work on which has already begun, is expected to be fully operational by July 2006. It will consist of enhanced seisomographic networks in the region, networks of real-time sea-level guages and deep-sea ocean pressure sensors.
In a fast-track effort to detect the presence or absence of a tsunami after a strong earthquake, the IOC has overseen the installation or upgrading of tide gauges. In addition to recording information about climate and sea-level change, this equipment is already transmitting real-time information that would enable the detection of a tsunami at ten- minute intervals.
Praising the efforts made so far to establish the warning system, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, who will address the opening session of the Assembly, recalled however that “disaster prevention is not just a question of science and technology” and that “the most difficult part of the task is yet to come.”
“Disaster prevention also requires preparing people at local level,” Mr Matsuura said. “They must be educated and informed so as to be alert to tsunamis and other major
hazards and to know what to do in the event of a warning being issued.
“Last December’s tsunami reminded us of how vulnerable populations in coastal areas can be. We must maintain the momentum of the past six months to ensure that we are ready when the next one strikes – not just in the Indian Ocean, but in the many other regions vulnerable to tsunamis such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the South West Pacific.”
Working towards this, IOC teams have undertaken needs assessment studies in several Indian Ocean countries with a view to assisting them to set up their national disaster plans, including public education programmes, communications and other vital infrastructure such as evacuation routes, emergency accommodation and medical facilities.
The IOC Assembly will also examine progress on other IOC programmes, including the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), oceanographic data and information management, climate research, harmful algal blooms, ocean carbon dioxide and the census of marine life. The transfer of marine technology, capacity building, and the sustainable development of small island states will also be discussed.
The ecology and oceanography of harmful algal blooms: multidisciplinary approaches to research and management of ecosystems will be the subject of the IOC Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture presented at the Assembly by Dr. Donald Anderson from the Biology Department of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA). The lecture will take place on Monday, June 27 at 3.15 pm in Room II at UNESCO Headquarters.
Journalists wishing to cover the IOC Assembly require accreditation from UNESCO’s Bureau of Public Information.