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31 January 2005

United Nations Plans Interim Alert System for Indian Ocean

International effort to protect area from tsunamis until full system is in place

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is developing an interim tsunami alert system for the Indian Ocean that will cover the region while a complete system is being put in place.

The United States, one of 129 IOC members, is a member of the IOC Executive Council.

In a January 29 press release, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura announced the new development in a speech that IOC Executive Secretary Patricio Bernal delivered to the Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements in Phuket, Thailand.

One proposal for the interim system could be operational almost immediately and would involve the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the IOC Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) providing national authorities in the Indian Ocean region with information and warnings arising from their monitoring activities.

The PTWC -- operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service -- is part of the Tsunami Warning System, an international program requiring the participation of many seismic, tide, communication and dissemination facilities operated by most of the nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

“In constructing the Indian Ocean system,” Matsuura said, “we must learn from experience. We do not need to start from scratch. Already the Tsunami Warning System for the Pacific Ocean has been in place and successfully operating for 40 years.”

On March 3, IOC member states and organizations will meet to integrate different early warning initiatives and define the scope and characteristics of the global system.

Information about the IOC is available at http://ioc.unesco.org/iocweb/index.php

For additional information about tsunami recovery efforts, see U.S. Response to Tsunami

Text of the UNESCO press release follows:

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United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Press release, January 29, 2005

UNESCO Director-General announces interim tsunami alert system for the Indian Ocean

29-01-2005 10:00 pm -- UNESCO and its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) are in the process of developing an interim tsunami alert system in the Indian Ocean which will cover the region while a longer-term fully-fledged system is put in place. UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, announced this new development in a speech delivered by IOC Executive-Secretary Patricio Bernal today to the Ministerial Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Tsunami Early Warning Arrangements underway in Phuket (Thailand).

One proposal under consideration for the interim system could be operational almost immediately, and would involve the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) and the IOC Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) providing national authorities in the Indian Ocean region with information and warnings arising from their monitoring activities. UNESCO is also working with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre in Thailand and the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre in Japan to accelerate the translation and adaptation of public awareness materials developed for and widely used in the Pacific region.

At the same time, efforts are continuing to establish a “longer-term fully-fledged system,” Mr Matsuura said. “Through a joint project with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which has received financial support from Japan, the European Union and Sweden, we are planning the installation of six tsunami enabled sea-level stations in the eastern Indian Ocean and the upgrading of 15 more in the whole basin.”

“In constructing the Indian Ocean system,” the Director-General said, “we must learn from experience. We do not need to start from scratch. Already the Tsunami Warning System for the Pacific Ocean has been in place and successfully operating for 40 years. We should also be clear that both the creation of the Indian Ocean Warning System and its ongoing management must be fully owned by participating countries from the region; it must meet their interests.”

The Director-General stressed that a successful warning system requires “open, free and unrestricted exchange of data and information.” Other vital elements, he said, were the preparation of civil populations and the need to design early warning systems according to local conditions. “For example, in Aceh, Indonesia, the rapid delivery of warning messages could well exploit the wide distribution of Islamic mosques with established loud-speaker systems,” Mr Matsuura said. “In other countries and local environments, alternative approaches may need to be employed, including local radio and traditional village communication structures.”

“We must all recognise,” the Director-General added, “that the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System is being built with and for communities that are deeply traumatised. Building the civil society component of the system must therefore be conducted in such a way as to be highly sensitive to local cultural specificities as well as the need to promote and, indeed, restore people’s confidence and assurance. Thus, the development of preparedness within civil society is intrinsically a nationally—specific task.”

Mr Matsuura also reiterated the need to establish by 2007 a tsunami-specific early warning system for other regions at risk, such as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the South-West Pacific.

The next steps toward this be taken on March 3, when the IOC convenes a technical meeting of experts from the interested Member States and relevant regional and international organizations. The goal of this meeting will to harmonize the different early warning iniatives emerging for the Indian Ocean and to define the scope and characteristics of the global system.

More information Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission http://ioc.unesco.org/iocweb/index.php

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