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UN-backed tsunami warning system for Europe could protect millions of people

UN-backed tsunami warning system for Europe could protect millions of people

Some 45 million people living along the coasts of Europe will benefit from a new life-saving United Nations-backed project to provide early warnings of an impending tsunami, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported today.

“The risk of tsunamis in this region might be relatively low, but if one occurred and we weren’t prepared the damage will be extensive,” Peter Koltermann, the head of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Tsunami co-ordination Unit, said, noting that 10 per cent of all observed tsunamis in the world occur in the Mediterranean Sea.

The new project consists of an Italian initiative to provide non-stop processing and coverage of seismic data in the seas around Europe. This data, which is essential for detecting earthquakes that potentially generate tsunamis, could significantly boost protection of Europe’s heavily developed and populated coastlines.

The Italian plan was presented to the 3rd Meeting of the Intergovernmental Co-ordination Group for the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Connected Seas Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, organized by UNESCO in Bonn, Germany, last week.

The data will be provided by one of Europe’s largest research institutions in the field of geophysics, seismology and vulcanology, the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, which will thus serve as the system’s first hub for immediate data delivery and dissemination.

An initial detection system is expected to be ready by the end of this year, with the full system covering all coasts from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and the North-Eastern Atlantic available by 2011. This system will be based largely on existing national seismic and sea level monitoring activities, which although extensive, need to be integrated to function as an effective regional system.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is leading the effort to establish a global tsunami warning system. After the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people, it coordinated the establishment of a tsunami warning system there and is also working towards a similar system for the Caribbean Sea.

Experts say scores of thousands of those killed by the 2004 tsunami could have been saved if early warning systems had existed and allowed them to escape to higher ground in the hours between the earthquake that triggered the giant waves and their landfall.