» 10 years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami: achievements and remaining challenges
03.12.2014 - Natural Sciences Sector

10 years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami: achievements and remaining challenges

© Evan Schneider/ UN PhotoSri Lanka after the tsunami in December 2004

Ten years after the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004 struck the countries of the Indian Ocean, over 130 participants met at a conference in Jakarta (Indonesia) organised on 24-25 November by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO and the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG). It aimed at recognizing the achievements of the last 10 years in establishing a regional tsunami warning system, to highlight work that still needs to be done, and to seek re-commitment to continued investment in the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System.

The first session reflected on the development of the IOTWS since 2004, and it was recognised that the Indian Ocean was much safer than it was 10 years ago. The core seismic network now comprises over 140 broadband seismometers compared to 13 in 2004 and the sea level network includes over 100 coastal sea level gauges compared to just 4 in 2004. There are now 9 deep ocean tsunameters whereas there were none in 2004. These instruments are available for tsunami warning purposes and share their data in near real-time. The IOTWS Tsunami Service Providers of Australia, India and Indonesia operate on 24/7 basis and provide bulletins for earthquakes above threshold to the National Tsunami Warning Centres within 10 minutes of an earthquake, and provide threat assessments within a target of 20 minutes. 

The second and third session provided the opportunity for all 22 Indian Ocean member states attending to report on their outstanding needs and planned future developments related to tsunami warning, and for donor organisations to provide their perspectives on the outcomes of their contributions to the IOTWS. The need for further work at the community level was highlighted by several speakers, recognising that tsunami early warning should be fully integrated into national and local disaster management planning. It was also recognised that a strategic approach to policy development and strengthening of institutional capacity was essential to ensure full integration into emergency management systems.

The fourth session focused on the governance and long term sustainability of the IOTWS and the important role of IOC-UNESCO in coordinating global tsunami warning systems was noted. The cost of maintaining the IOTWS was highlighted and it was estimated that $90 million per year would be required to maintain and operate the entire IOTWS. It was recognised that strong policy support and institutionalising of key tsunami warning functions at the national level would be required to secure the long term future of the tsunami warning system for future generations.

The role of international organisations in coordinating and strengthening tsunami warning in the Indian Ocean was discussed in Session 5. It was concluded that IOC-UNESCO should continue to lead the coordination towards globally harmonized and sustainable tsunami warning systems in close cooperation with partner organizations to ensure: robust, efficient and effective performance; global coverage of interoperable warning systems for coastal hazards; enhancement of the network of stakeholders including operators, scientists, policy makers and mass-media; and facilitation of data and information exchange.  

Representatives from 15 Indian Ocean member states made statements from the floor expressing their continued support for the IOTWS and committing their countries to continue participating in the IOTWS.

At the final session of the conference, which was moderated by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Dr Sang-Kyung Byun, the moderators of the previous sessions reported on the conclusions and outcomes arising from their sessions and panel discussions. These summary reports will be framed as a conference statement for conveyance to the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will take place in Sendai, Japan, on 14-18 March 2015.

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