Annan ‘saddened’ by toll of latest tsunami; UN agency assesses warning system

19 July 2006

Expressing condolences for the hundreds killed by the latest tsunami to hit Indonesia, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today offered humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, as the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) assessed the strengths and gaps in the Indian Ocean warning system revealed by the event.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life and damages provoked by the tsunami that struck the Indonesian island of Java on 17 July, and the trauma being experienced by the survivors due to the series of aftershocks, shaking parts of the island,” Mr. Annan’s spokesman said in a formal statement.

According to UNESCO, the Indian Ocean warning system established after the deadly tsunami of 2004 was able to quickly alert national authorities of the danger of giant waves following Monday’s earthquake, but hundreds of people were still swept away because the alarm did not reach the coast in time.

“It is important to maintain the momentum of the past 18 months and to reinforce national capacities to react effectively when such disasters strike,” Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director General said, urging Indian Ocean nations to extend the system “the final mile to the people on the coast.”

The Warning System was established by States in the region with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission after an earthquake off Indonesia’s island of Sumatra in December 2004 generated waves that killed more than 230,000 people in more than 12 Asian countries.

So far, 26 out of a possible 29 national tsunami warning centres, capable of receiving and distributing tsunami advisories around the clock, have been set up in Indian Ocean countries. The seismographic network has been improved, with 25 new stations being deployed that will be linked in real-time to analysis centres.

There are, UNESCO said, also three deep-ocean assessment and reporting sensors and the Commission for the Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is also contributing data from seismographic stations.

Yesterday, as a result of all these preparations, in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, the tsunami advisory was received only 19 minutes after the earthquake, Mr Matsuura said.

“However, several hundred people still lost their lives and tens of thousands more have lost their homes and livelihoods. The system still has big gaps, notably in getting the warnings to coastal communities in time,” he concluded.

The Indian Ocean System constitutes a vital component of a global system, towards which the UNESCO group has been working. To this end, warning systems are also being established in the North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and Adjoining Seas, and the Caribbean, while protection is being reinforced in the Pacific and South China Sea.


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