A similar system took Pacific states a decade to develop.

While question marks still hover over the management of relief efforts in areas hit by December’s tsunami and the bickering over promised aid continues, progress on minimizing the impact of future disasters has been swift and effective.

Officials working for the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) have been extremely pleased with the speed at which systems have sprung up.

“Nearly six months after the tsunami tragedy in the Indian Ocean, one of the main achievements so far has been the rapid progress on a regional tsunami early warning system for the region,” said Salvano Briceño, director of the ISDR secretariat.

“If another tsunami would happen today in the region, people will be safer and will have a better chance to save their lives.”

Since the tsunami the UN has hosted two major international coordination meetings in Paris and Mauritius that hammered out agreements between countries and with technical experts on the new tsunami warning system.

There have been advances on many fronts, for example:

  • The Indian Ocean observing system is being upgraded under the leadership UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
  • The regional system for exchanging hazard data and warnings messages is being upgraded by the World Meteorological Organization.
  • National tsunami centres and programmes have been set up by India, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries.
  • An interim tsunami advisory mechanism has been put in place supported by the Japan Meteorological Agency and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Familiarisation visits to tsunami centres in Japan and Hawaii for high level administrators have been organised by ISDR and Japanese and US partners.
  • Workshops for television broadcasters and warning experts looking at how to report on possible tsunami have been organised by the ISDR and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.
  • Missions by tsunami and risk management experts are being undertaken to help countries assess their needs for support.

“In less than six months, the countries of the region and the international community have achieved in the Indian ocean what took a decade or more in the Pacific Ocean,” said Mr Briceno.

“This progress has only been possible through strong leadership by Indian Ocean countries and UN agencies and the support of many donors.

“The foundations will soon be in place for a well-coordinated regional early warning system.

“But much remains to be done – we now have to build capacities at local and national levels, so that warnings reach everyone at risk and the people know how to react.

“Tsunamis have to be managed as part of a multi-hazard, resilience-based approach – being prepared for whatever may come” adds Salvano Briceno.”

“This has to be the challenge for the next six months – and the years to come.”

By Sam Bond

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