Quakes Still Rocking Indian Ocean, Warning System Soon Activated

PHUKET, Thailand, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - The same Indian Ocean region struck by a severe earthquake and devastating tsunami five weeks ago is still rippling with the movements of the Earth. On Wednesday, the west coast of northern Sumatra - where the December quake was centered - experienced a quake over 6.2 magnitude - classified as "strong" by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center.

On Saturday, as ministers were meeting in Phuket to plan an early warning system for the region, a magnitude 5.5 quake was recorded off the west coast of northern Sumatra just 305 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Banda Aceh, the city ripped to pieces by the massive earthquake and tsunami in December.

India's Nicobar Islands shook all day - 10 earthquakes over 5.0 in magnitude were recorded there, while on Thursday, the Nicobars were shaken by 37 quakes greater than 5.0 in magnitude.

This pattern of continuing quakes has convinced authorities that the region cannot wait for a full warning system - something must be done immediately to alert the traumatized survivors of the first tsunami if another similar wave arises.


This point in the city of Banda Aceh, wiped out by the December tsunami, is close to renewed earthquakes. (Photo courtesy ) )
No tsunami warning system existed in the region on December 26, 2004 when an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 occurred in the sea bed off the west coast of northern Sumatra setting a long tsunami wave in motion that left close to 300,000 people dead and missing in 11 Indian Ocean countries.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is taking immediate action to develop an interim tsunami alert system for the Indian Ocean that will cover the region while a complete system is being put in place.

IOC Executive Secretary Patricio Bernal told a ministerial meeting on regional cooperation on tsunami early warning arrangements in Phuket on Saturday that the Japanese and Hawaiian tsunami experts would be glad to help.

This proposal for the interim system could be operational almost immediately. It would involve the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the IOC Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii providing national authorities in the Indian Ocean region with information and warnings arising from their monitoring activities.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center - operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service - is part of the larger tsunami warning system, an international program requiring the participation of many seismic, tide, communication and dissemination facilities operated by most of the nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.


Patricio Bernal is executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, made up of 129 governments. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) )
“In constructing the Indian Ocean system,” said Bernal, “we must learn from experience. We do not need to start from scratch. Already the Tsunami Warning System for the Pacific Ocean has been in place and successfully operating for 40 years.”

On March 3, IOC member states and organizations will meet to integrate different early warning initiatives and define the scope and characteristics of a new global system.

Speaking on behalf of UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, Bernal said the new early warning system requires "open, free and unrestricted exchange of data and information.”

Other vital elements, he said, were the preparation of civil populations and the need to design early warning systems according to local conditions.

“For example, in Aceh, Indonesia, the rapid delivery of warning messages could well exploit the wide distribution of Islamic mosques with established loud-speaker systems,” he said. “In other countries and local environments, alternative approaches may need to be employed, including local radio and traditional village communication structures.”

“We must all recognize,” Bernal reminded the ministers, “that the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System is being built with and for communities that are deeply traumatized. Building the civil society component of the system must therefore be conducted in such a way as to be highly sensitive to local cultural specificities as well as the need to promote and, indeed, restore people’s confidence and assurance. Thus, the development of preparedness within civil society is intrinsically a nationally specific task.”

By 2007, the IOC intends to build a tsunami-specific early warning system for other regions at risk, such as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Southwest Pacific Ocean.