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UN: Wave alert in place within year
By Disaster Forecasting (Agencies)
Updated: 2004-12-30 23:11

A tsunami early alert system, should be in place in South and Southeast Asia within a year, a UN official said.

Aerial view of Patong beach on December 30, 2004. One of the most powerful earthquakes in history hit Asia over the weekend, unleashing a series of tidal waves which devastated coastal areas of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and tourist isles in Thailand, killing thousands of people. [Reuters]
And in China, experts are urging the nation to strengthen its marine disaster warning system to prevent similar calamities.

The technology to detect undersea earthquakes, such as the one off Indonesia that unleashed Sunday's devastating tidal waves, is used elsewhere and could be shared with vulnerable coastal communities in the region, said Salvano Briceno, head of a United Nations' disaster agency.

"I want to see that every coastal country around South Asia and Southeast Asia has at least a basic but effective tsunami warning system in place by this time next year,'' the director of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction said in a statement on Wednesday.

What is needed is an international system for countries to share knowledge of seismic events together with an efficient domestic communication network allowing governments to transmit warnings quickly to communities at risk, he said.

"The problem is not so much the technical system, but the (communication) network... There is a great deal of work to be done in raising awareness of coastal communities,'' he told a news conference.

The Indian Ocean, with no major tsunami in over 100 years, was not the only vulnerable area. The Caribbean and the Mediterranean, both on fault lines, were also at risk.

In China, the early warning system "should lower the threshold for prevention gauges, taking into account the potential factors that might combine to lead to a catastrophe," said Professor Liu Defu from the Ocean University of China.

Liu has been trying to find ways to prevent and control the potentially devastating effects of marine disasters at the university in East China's Shandong Province.

"A tsunami alert system is of necessity for China despite the slight possibility of such a catastrophe hitting the country," he said.

Liu's judgment was based on the nation's abundance of islands in its neighboring marine areas, which, to some degree, can reduce the chances of the occurrence of tsunamis.

Historic data show China has never been hit by a tsunami.

However, he warned, the nation needs a comprehensive monitoring network for marine disaster prevention considering the storm surges created by the typhoon often hit some coastal areas.

"Despite the different causes between storm surges and tsunamis, they might result in similar tragedies," he said.

Storm surges resulting from typhoons hit East China's Zhejiang Province on August 17, 1997. Floods affected 21.67 million people in 75 counties became flood-stricken. It led to 147 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries and a direct economic loss of 18.6 billion yuan (US$2.3 billion).

In 1983, China joined the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, the United States, an international organization involving 26 member countries that aims to provide tsunamis warning to most countries along the Pacific.

A National Marine Environmental Forecasting Centre is also in place, affiliated with the State Oceanic Administration to monitor potential disasters in the nation's ocean areas.

The computerized system can detect signs of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or eruption within five minutes, Li Mousheng, a press official from the administration, told China Daily.

The tsunami disaster has also triggered warnings for low-lying island countries to establish an alert system.

An international meeting will take place at a UN-sponsored world conference on disaster reduction in Kobe, Japan next month.

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