KOBE — A UNESCO-backed proposal that calls for the introduction of a $13 million tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean within one year was presented Wednesday at the U.N.’s World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe.
As part of the proposal, which is to be submitted at a high-level meeting Thursday on the recent Indian Ocean tsunamis, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s International Oceanic Commission will present a final plan of action by July at the earliest.
If adopted, the technology to detect earthquakes and tsunamis could be in place within a year, although the completion of a comprehensive early warning communications system for countries would take longer, UNESCO officials said.
“The absence of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean like the one in the Pacific Ocean was the reason for the extensive damage,” said Koichiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO.
“We plan to hold technical meetings in Paris next month, following which much commentary from experts and others will be solicited,” said Patricio Bernal, an IOC executive secretary. “In July, the IOC will present the results of its findings for all member nations who want to implement an early-warning system.
“Such a technical system could be up and running within a year, at an initial cost of around $13 million. However, building a soft infrastructure, i.e. educating people, will take a long time and must be ongoing.”
The new system favored by UNESCO would combine aspects of the technology and information systems used at the International Tsunami Information Center and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center — which counts Japan, the United States, Russia, Indonesia and Thailand among its members.
These systems enable the centers to detect earthquakes, determine their magnitude, and issue tsunami warnings to the centers’ member states in under 30 minutes.
“When there is a quake, we can respond with a tsunami warning to our 26 member countries within 30 minutes,” said Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center.
If a earthquake occurs in the Pacific, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, based in Hawaii, can react even faster.
“Normally, we can determine the location and magnitude of an undersea earthquake 10 to 15 minutes after it occurs. We can then determine the possibility of tsunamis and issue warnings based on where we think they have a chance of striking,” said Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific center.
But because the exact path of a tsunami cannot be determined until the surface wave direction is known — which can be several hours after an earthquake — about 90 percent of the first tsunami warnings turn out to be false alarms, he explained.
UNESCO’s proposal was not the only one announced Wednesday.
S.K. Subramanian, deputy director general of the Indian Meteorological Department, said India planned to have its own Indian Ocean warning system in place by 2007.
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