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Indian Ocean tsunami warning system may get delayed

For India, monsoon and cyclone warning have always been more important than tsunamis. That has changed. But regional bickerings and national ego may prevent the quick formation of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.


The Indian Ocean Tsunami early warning system may be up and running by June 2006. That is, if internal politics of the nations concerned and the transnational power-jockeying do not scuttle its formation. Indian Ocean nations cannot afford another mega-disaster in their beaches. An early warning system is the need of the hour.

Currently, the only early warning system to detect oncoming tsunamis exists in the Pacific region. The Pacific tsunami warning system has been functioning effectively since 1968. Though the technology to detect tsunamis is not very high-tech, the expenses to set up sensors on the seabed, networking them, a central monitoring node, and a seamless information dissemination system call for huge investments. This is the reason why nations in the Pacific region banded together to form the Pacific Tsunami warning system.

For the Pacific Ocean tsunami warning system, Australia provides resources, compiles information on earthquakes and issues tsunami warnings to its 23 member countries. Neither India, nor any of the Indian Ocean nations are part of this. Australia has offered its technical prowess and experience to develop the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system. But India, loaded with false pride, claims that the country is capable of developing its own technology.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth has suggested that its 53 member states can pool their resources to develop a common tsunami warning system. 
The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, says a warning system should be examined for the Indian Ocean.

At a special session on tsunami, Germany, France, Japan and the United States were only a few of the nations lining up to make proposals, while India highlighted a system of its own. US ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, suggested extending the current Hawaii-based Pacific warning system, which was set up after a 1960 earthquake in Chile triggered a tidal wave that killed more than 100 in Japan and other Pacific nations, while Japan pledged the highest level of support. 

"When it comes to tsunami, we believe that Japan is the most advanced in terms of knowledge and technology," says Shuzen Tanigawa, senior vice foreign minister. Many countries acknowledge that Japan, with its long history of earthquakes and devastating tsunamis, certainly had a crucial role to play in forming the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system. 

According to Unesco, a global tsunami warning system to detect tsunamis will be in place by 2007. The Indian Ocean tsunami warning system is likely to be in place an year before that, but if the way nations are going is any indication, it will take longer than that.

The cost of setting up an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system is expected to be around $30 million. This is peanuts compared to the level of damage wrecked by the December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami. Damage from the tsunami on the Maldives islands alone was estimated at more than a billion dollars.

Unesco, which helped in setting up the Pacific tsunami warning system, is taking the lead in international efforts to create a regional alert system for the Indian Ocean. Unesco expects this to be followed by a global tsunami warning system. 

According to Unesco chief Koichiro Matsuura, "If everything goes well, the initial warning system for the Indian Ocean should be put in place at least in its provisional form by June 2006 and the global warning system should be put in place... by June 2007." 

Australia and the Commonwealth are pushing for the creation of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon have backed the idea of an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.

India is seen as the spoilsport in the regional effort to set up the Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system. Many smaller Indian Ocean states look up to India for support, whereas the Indian science and technology minister Kabil Sibal has already gone on record that India will set up its own tsunami warning system. Unless India can rope in the smaller countries around it to form the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system, it may be another foreign power, may be the US, which takes the lead in mobilising them. And since many of them do not have the national ego associated with Indian politicians, they may be only too glad to accept Uncle Sam's embrace. This will undermine India's efforts at securing a regional superpower status.

Indonesia, Sri Lanka and many tiny island nations do not have the money to spend on the sophisticated warning buoys that cost upwards of $320,000 each. Indonesian officials have already raised concerns that the cost could be too much for a nation struggling to provide roads and electricity to outlying areas.


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