Experts discuss tsunami alert system

Top scientists and government officials from over 25 nations have launched talks aimed at setting up a tsunami early warning system for Indian Ocean countries by next year.

    Last December's tsunami killed 217,000 people in 11 countries

    The UN's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, holding its second session on the system in the central Indian city of Hyderabad, will review progress made by the nations involved in the project and seek to plug implementation gaps.

    "The main objective is to find out ways to establish the early warning system," PS Goel, India's highest-ranking bureaucrat in the department of ocean development, said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the three-day meeting.

    Meeting participants will work to achieve "some kind of understanding in the sharing of ideas, technology and most importantly information", he added.

    Most of the 29 Indian Ocean nations did not have an early warning system when a massive undersea earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra last December unleashed the giant waves, killing 217,000 people in 11 countries.

    The UN commission was established at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) conference in June in Paris, with a mandate to set up a warning system and promote tsunami awareness.

    Working groups

    The first meeting of a coordination group for the regional tsunami warning system, held in August in the western Australian city of Perth, set up working groups to deal with different aspects of the project.

    These included measuring seismic activity, data collection and exchange, deep-sea tsunami detection measurements, tsunami hazard identification and establishment of a system bridging all the tasks.

    Experts: An alert system might
    have averted many of the deaths

    "All these activities will now be reviewed and discussed," Goel said.

    Since the killer waves struck, Indonesia completed the initial phase of a tsunami early warning system in November. Thailand has also installed a system with help from the US.

    India has said it is spending 1.25 billion rupees ($26 million) to set up a system by 2007.


    Commission working group member Charitha Pattiaratchi said most nations in the Indian Ocean rim did not have the technology to build a computer model to predict a tsunami.

    "The capacity to undertake computer modelling is lacking in the region with the exception of a few countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand," he said.

    Main task


    "One of the main tasks is to develop capacity in the region," said Pattiaratchi, who is also a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

    Experts say an alert system might have averted many of the deaths in the region.

    A warning system is already in place in the Pacific Ocean region. It can issue a warning less than an hour after the occurrence of an earthquake that could cause a tsunami.



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