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UN plans for early warning system for natural disasters moves forward

UN plans for early warning system for natural disasters moves forward

Sálvano Briceño
United Nations efforts to set up an early warning system that could save tens of thousands of lives in natural disasters moved a further step forward today with an international conference calling for more funds and stressing the vital importance of local communities in readiness training.

“The need to develop a strong people-centred approach to early warning is very clear and must remain a primary focus for the future,” UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) director Salvano Briceño told the closing session of the third International Conference on Early Warning in Bonn, Germany.

“In pursuing this goal, we should not forget the fundamental importance of quality science and technology. Science and technology are advancing rapidly and must go hand in hand with the human need,” he said of the project, which was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 when experts say tens of thousands of the more than 200,000 lives lost could have been saved.

At the time such a system based on quake and tidal sensors, speedy communications, alarm networks from radio to cell phones, and disaster preparedness training, existed only for the Pacific Rim countries.

Had one operated in the Indian Ocean, it would have given hundreds of thousands of people several hours between the time the quake spawned the tsunami off the Indonesian island of Sumatra and its landfall in places like Sri Lanka to flee to higher ground.

The 1,200 participants from 140 countries attending the three-day Bonn conference called for increased regional cooperation as well as better communications tailored to people’s needs, more training, community preparedness, education and awareness raising to better protect the most vulnerable people.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland urged accelerated actions to further strengthen the resilience of nations and local communities to natural hazards, and former United States President Bill Clinton who is UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery stressed the importance of community level preparedness to reduc the impacts of natural hazards.

A people-centred approach to make early warning systems more efficient and better understood by communities was one of the main conclusions of the discussions held in the two parallel streams of the conference: the Priorities and Projects Forum, and the Scientific and Technical Symposium.

The conference produced a “Compendium of Early Warning Projects” consisting of project proposals from all parts of the world, and an “Early Warning Checklist,” a tool for practitioners to improve the effectiveness of existing early warning systems.

In their final statement, participants reiterated that effective early warning must be an integral part of disaster risk reduction strategies in national development frameworks, welcomed Secretary-General Kof Annan’s report on the Global Survey of Early Warning Systems presented by Mr. Egeland, and called for additional funding.