Global Early Warning System Agreement Should be Focus of Kobe Conference
Nairobi, 15 January 2005 – Making operational a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean must be one of the key outcomes of an international disaster reduction conference taking place in Japan, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today.
The conference should also outline how such a system can be extended beyond the Indian Ocean to all seas and oceans across the globe and to all forms of natural and man-made disasters including those as a result of climate change, said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director.
“The need for early warning was one of the key outcomes of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) meeting which closed last Friday in Mauritius. The United Nations, governments and civil society are as one on this issue,” he said.
“The disaster reduction conference, taking place between 18 and 22 January in Kobe, must now take this forward and put real flesh on these plans including the sums of money needed and the roles of the different actors involved,” added Mr. Toepfer.
The SIDS conference also highlighted how natural features such as coral reefs and mangroves play important roles in defending small islands and low lying coastal areas from aggressive and destructive seas.
Governments agreed that more action should be taken to conserve these vital ecosystems by, for example, reducing pollution from the land into coastal areas, tackling illegal trade in corals and better assessing the impact of coastal developments.
Delegates at the SIDS meeting agreed that early warning systems were vital and that along with technology such as telecommunications and sea-based buoys, reducing vulnerability to such events also required community based initiatives involving education and training.
A special session of the Kobe World Conference on Disaster Reduction has been organized on 19 January by the Japanese government to specifically address the tsunami issue.
Mr. Toepfer said much could be learnt from the Caribbean where a Caribbean Tsunami Warning System was approved in 2002 following an earlier meeting hosted by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and UNEP.
The system, which would cover areas including the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas, is designed to alert countries and communities to a potentially damaging tsunami by ringing telephones and setting off alarm tones on personal computers.
Other components of the system include a network of sea level gauges, able to detect the emergence of big waves, a network of seismic stations and links to weather and meteorological stations in the region.
An aggressive public education and information programme for local communities is also proposed including how to spot warning signs and develop appropriate evacuation procedures.
The system, which has been priced at just under $2.5 million, would take about three years to establish. But since being agreed there has been little progress towards its implementation.
Mr. Toepfer said: “ We must ensure that the proposed Indian Ocean early warning system does not, like the Caribbean one, simply lie on the shelf gathering dust. We must, as a tribute to those 150,000 people who died as a result of the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004, translate fine words into deeds to ensure that vulnerability in the Indian Ocean is reduced and that early warning systems elsewhere are put in place. These need to cover not only tsunamis but other catastrophes including hurricanes and cyclones, fires, chemical accidents and oil spills”.
Since the tragedy of 26 December, UNEP along with other UN bodies and the international community, has been assisting the countries affected including small islands such as the Seychelles and the Maldives.
An initial assessment or ‘screening’ of the environmental damage, including damage to natural sea defenses such as coral reefs and mangrove swamps and chemical and waste installations, is expected from UNEP teams by mid to late February when UNEP will hold its Governing Council at its Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters.
The Mauritius Declaration, which came at the end of the SIDS meeting held last week in Port Louis, Mauritius, states that “we, the representatives of the people of the world,….reiterate that the acknowledged vulnerability of small island developing states continues to be of major concern and that this vulnerability will grow unless urgent steps are taken”.
Governments also specifically backed calls for an Indian Ocean and more extended early warning network.
“The tragic impacts of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and Pacific highlight the need to develop and strengthen effective disaster risk reduction, early warning systems, emergency relief, and rehabilitation and reconstruction capacities,” says the declaration.
Note to Editors
World Conference on Disaster Reduction, 18 to 22 January, Kobe, Japan www.unisdr.org/wcdr.
For more information on the Caribbean Tsunami Early Warning System go to the web site of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, part of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), at www.cdera.org.
The International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States 10 to 14 January 2005 www.sidsmauritius2005.mu.
UNEP reports on SIDS can be found at www.unep.org.
For More Information Please Contact Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail email@example.com.
UNEP News Release 2005/05