People living along the coast in vulnerable Indian Ocean countries must learn to be “tsunami-savvy” to survive, while authorities must have solid planning in place to evacuate affected areas, a senior official from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that just over two weeks after a deadly wave killed almost 700 people in Indonesia and displaced tens of thousands.
“We have a good tsunami detection network in operation but the best technology will not help those populations living on a coast close to the epicentre of a major earthquake. In such situations, people have only a few minutes to react,” said Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which organized a meeting in Bali to discuss how best to deal with these phenomena.
“They must be ‘tsunami-savvy’. This means they must know what to do when a major earthquake strikes, and local authorities must have solid planning in place to get people away from the area as quickly as possible.”
He said the meeting, known as the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, had shown that Indian Ocean nations have made “considerable progress” in developing national tsunami warning systems, but that the most vulnerable States still face a major challenge in protecting their coastal populations.
Putting in place national response systems was the main focus of the participants and delegates agreed that the ability to “go the last mile” and reach coastal communities was a top priority. They also agreed to continue to build the capacity to detect tsunamis and improve communication channels to ensure the delivery of timely and accurate information when tsunamis occurred.
“There’s been an explosion of activity in the countries of the region over the past 18 months to build their national response systems,” Mr Bernal said. “Thailand, for example, is now confident it can get tsunami information rapidly to people on the beach, and several others, including Madagascar and the Maldives, are getting close to this.”
However, several nations with coastlines close to fault lines, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Oman and Iran, remain vulnerable.
The earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Java on 17 July killed close to 700 people and destroyed up to 15,000 homes, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today, but it warned that a further 10,000 people have also fled their homes and are staying in makeshift camps because they are afraid to return to areas closer to the sea.
“It’s really frightening,” said 33-year old Sumarni as she sat at Sukahurip school with her three-year-old son, Akmal, both munching WFP-supplied high-energy biscuits. “So many disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes – one after another. What’s next?”The worst-hit area in last month’s disaster was the resort town of Pangandaran in West Java where, apart from those killed and displaced, the giant waves also destroyed over 60 hotels, 163 stores, 162 restaurants and 600 street kiosks, as well as 21 fish markets and close to 2,000 fishing boats, thereby devastating the survivors’ livelihood.
An earthquake in May that also hit Java killed more than 5,000 people and injured more than 8,000, while parts of the country are still recovering from an earthquake off Indonesia’s Sumatra island in December 2004 that caused a devastating tsunami which killed over 230,000 people and affected more than 12 countries in Asia.