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13 January 2005

U.N. Plans for Initial Tsunami Early Warning System in 2006

Experts to meet in March to decide details of Indian Ocean system

The United Nations plans to have an Indian Ocean tsunami early warning system, which experts say could have saved tens of thousands of lives in the current disaster, up and running by June 2006, with a global system operational a year after that.

Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said assessment missions are being undertaken to concerned countries as a step toward creating the Indian Ocean component, the first regional segment of the global system.

Such a mechanism would have given coastal populations time to reach higher ground before gigantic waves struck on December 26 -- in many countries hours after the initial earthquake that spawned the tsunami.

Speaking at a January 12 news conference in Mauritius at the International Meeting on Small Island Developing States, Matsuura estimated the cost of scientific infrastructure for the Indian Ocean system at about $30 million, with another $1 million to $2 million for annual maintenance.

Two meetings of experts will be held in March to analyze the recent earthquake and tsunami and determine requirements for a global alert system.

Text of the U.N. press release follows:

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United Nations
Press release, January 13, 2005

[Paris, France]

UN pushes ahead with plans for global tsunami early warning system

13 January 2005 -- The United Nations plans to have an Indian Ocean tsunami early warning system, which experts say could have saved tens of thousands of lives in the current disaster, up and running by June 2006, with a global system operational a year after that.

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, said assessment missions are already being undertaken to concerned countries as a step towards the creation of the Indian Ocean component, the first regional segment of the global system.

Such a mechanism would have given coastal populations enough time to reach higher ground before the gigantic waves struck on 26 December -- in many countries hours after the initial earthquake that spawned the tsunami.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday in Mauritius at the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Mr. Matsuura estimated the cost of scientific infrastructure for the Indian Ocean system consisting of a regional and national centres at about $30 million, with an additional of $1 million to $2 million for annual maintenance.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) initiated in 1968 a successful International Tsunami Warning System for the Pacific, presently the only one in the world, and this "has undoubtedly saved many lives over the past four decades of its existence," he said. "We have learned some important lessons and gained much experience in the Pacific, and this will prove invaluable in setting up a new global system."

Two meetings of experts will be held in March to analyze the recent earthquake and tsunami and to look at exactly what will be required for a global alert system. They will also seek to harmonize all international efforts being made towards the establishment of the Indian Ocean early warning system.

Mr. Matsuura stressed the importance of collaboration in such a project and said UNESCO would be working closely with key institutional partners like the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and other international partners, donor countries and national authorities.

"The role of the latter is crucial in the success of any alert system," he added. "It is up to the authorities in individual countries to set up the communication networks needed to ensure that information on tsunami, and other natural disasters, reaches threatened populations. They are also responsible for education and awareness-raising programmes to inform people about the actions they can take to save lives and limit the damage of such disasters."

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)