Unesco project to strengthen tsunami early warning system

Muscat - 

Keeping in mind the destruction that follows a tsunami, experts are trying to reduce the response time taken for issuing warnings. 

Representatives of tsunami warning centres, disaster management agencies, seismologists and tsunami modellers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Oman and the UAE, and experts from Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, the US and UN agencies met in Muscat recently to discuss all these to implement the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of Unesco’s multi-national project. It is aimed at strengthening the tsunami early warning in the north-west Indian Ocean region through regional cooperation.

The project was launched during two back-to-back meetings hosted by Oman’s Directorate General of Meteorology.

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Srinivasa Kumar Tummala, head of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS) Secretariat, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)-Unesco, said, “We want to help strengthen the tsunami early warning in the north-west Indian Ocean Region and help communities and people in the region to prepare them and enhance their response, to a tsunami. The countries that are there in the region are actually surrounding the Makran Subduction Zone.”

Tummala added, “The Makran Subduction Zone (MSZ) off the coast of Iran and Pakistan is still not understood well. Several decades after the 1945 tsunami that caused hundreds of confirmed fatalities in the North West Indian Ocean (NWIO) region, there are still open questions about whether the Makran Subduction Zone will be able to generate such large tsunamis in the future. In the worst case, tsunami waves generated by a Makran source could reach shores of India, Iran, Pakistan, Oman and other adjoining countries within a few tens of minutes (sic) with height of several metres, posing enormous challenges to the existing tsunami warning systems.”

The Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS) was established by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of Unesco in response to the December 26, 2004 tsunami that led to 230,000 deaths in several countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The IOTWMS became operational in 2013 with Tsunami Service Providers established by Australia, India and Indonesia starting to provide tsunami services to 28 member states in the region.

Tsunami story

He said, “The last tsunami, generated in the MSZ was actually in 1945 which is reported to have killed about 4,000 people those days in several countries of the region. If something of that sort happens again it will lead to loss of life and property at a bigger scale as population in the coastal area is much higher and infrastructure is more developed than those days.”

Tummala said, “This project which will run for a year will aim to attain two objectives: We do not know how big an earthquake will be generated by the MSZ. Will it be as big as the one that happened in 1945. So we need to do a lot of observations to understand the nature of the MSZ. A tsunami can reach a community and cause devastation say in minutes as it did in Indonesia. The devastation happened there in three minutes. So our second objective is to have your warning chain starting from the warning centre to the disaster management office to the public to the media, it has to be very seamless and without any delay at any point and then make sure that the early warning chains are the shortest possible.

“We will conduct workshops and work with the main actors in the chain including the tsunami warning centres, technical agencies, like the multi-hazard warning system, disaster management officers and media. In the next one year we will also have an event called Indian Ocean wave exercise. We will follow and test the intervention during that time. For example, now it takes ten minutes we will see if we can reduce it to say five minutes.”

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