18.05.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Preparing Mediterranean coastal communities for the next tsunami

Setting up an efficient early warning system which detects potential tsunamis in the Mediterranean sea, alerts populations at risk and triggers proper protective behaviours is the key focus for 60 risk management experts from the Euro-Mediterranean and Balkan countries who will meet in the island of Stromboli (Italy) from 30 May to 2 June 2012.

The EU-funded PPRD South Programme together with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO are organizing the workshop in one of the most exposed Mediterranean coasts to the tsunami risk, where representatives of the national civil protection authorities of the Programme Partner Countries, the Italian Civil Protection, the European Commission, UNESCO-IOC, three Italian key research institutes, five Italian regions among the more exposed to the tsunami risk and the local municipality will review the state-of-art of the UNESCO-IOC Mediterranean Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System (NEAMTWS). Including organizational arrangements, ongoing and future activities, tsunami detection technologies and alert dissemination procedures.

The welcome to the workshop will be addressed by Franco Gabrielli, Head of the Italian Civil Protection Department, Peter Billing, Deputy Head of Crisis Response Unit at the DG ECHO of the European Commission, Francesca Santoro from UNESCO-IOC, and Pierluigi Soddu, PPRD South Executive Director.

During the workshop, participants will be informed on how, through a regional network of scientific institutes, NEAMTWS can now detect earthquakes or submarine landslides that can generate a tsunami. It can also identify potential tsunami impact areas, predict its propagation and its time of arrival and finally issue the tsunami warning to national authorities. Participants will assess the feasibility of exchanging sea-level data which can confirm the tsunami and provide information on its amplitude although, in the Mediterranean, due to short tsunami waves travel time, it is not always possible to wait for such confirmation before issuing the alert.

Risk management experts, during the workshop, will illustrate the capacity of their countries in issuing timely warnings to the populations at risk along with planned actions for ensuring that people in danger know what to do when they are reached by the warning.

Statistically, tsunamis in the Mediterranean are more frequent than those in the Indian Ocean and have caused extensive damage and loss of life during centuries. According to the European Environment Agency, 200 tsunamis were recorded over the last 500 years around the Mediterranean and the University of Bologna indicated recently that on average in the last four centuries Italy has been hit by 15 tsunamis every 100 years. The reported Mediterranean tsunamis mainly occurred in the most seismic and volcanically active regions like the Aegean, Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, the sea of Marmara, along the Algerian coast and Cyprus.

The risk of loss of lives and economic disaster in the southern Mediterranean is high due to strong population density along its coasts: around 150 million people concentrated in 46,000 kms of coastline, 110 million of them living in cities bordering the sea and some 200 million tourists visiting the area every year. All this with a still limited consideration of the tsunami risk in the land use planning policies all around the region.

Important Research Institutes of the Euro-Mediterranean region will participate to the meeting together with UNESCO-IOC which, in response to the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December  2004, was mandated of coordinating the establishment of the Mediterranean Tsunami Early Warning System. The European Union supports UNESCO-IOC efforts by funding the NEAMTWS Tsunami Information Centre (NEAMTIC) project with the objectives of improving the circulation of best practices on tsunami risk reduction in the region, raising awareness of population exposed and strengthening the linkages between IOC and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

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