An upcoming international meeting in Mauritius this week is expected to fine-tune plans for the establishment of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean. The meeting, co-organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), an international information clearinghouse that promotes policy integration and the coordination of disaster reduction activities, is expected to bring together early warning systems experts and representatives from Indian Ocean countries affected by the 26 December 2004 tsunami. Last December an undersea earthquake off the coast of Aceh in western Indonesian generated a tsunami that hit 13 countries along the Indian Ocean rim, leaving more than 200,000 people dead. The disaster sparked a massive relief effort and prompted urgent calls for a regional early warning system. The Mauritius conference, from 14-16 April, follows a meeting held in Paris last month, where Indian Ocean countries created a partial tsunami alert system. Recommendations made in Paris included beefing up ocean observation systems and national tsunami warning capacities. It also established specific arrangements for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and the Japan Meteorological Agency to transmit warning information to national contact points in the Indian Ocean region. ISDR media relations officer Brigitte Leoni told IRIN that the 'partial system' worked well last month, when another powerful shift in the ocean floor hit Sumatra. "Although the earthquake in Sumatra did not trigger a tsunami, many countries in the region did receive sufficient warnings as a result of the interim measures put in place after the Paris meeting. But it is extremely important that a fully-fledged regional early warning system is put in place to cater for the specific needs of the countries - the countries in the Indian Ocean should not have to depend on warning centres in Hawaii or Japan," Leoni said. According to ISDR, geologists have warned that earthquakes along the Sumatra fault line could be part of a domino effect, setting in motion further large earthquakes and tsunamis in future. Delegates in Mauritius are expected to clarify how national tsunami warning centres would work in a regional operational framework. The discussions would also address the role of countries in assuming responsibility for regional, sub-regional and national centres, to ensure an effective tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean. "Effective early warning systems need strong technical foundations, but they also need sustained efforts on public awareness, education, and national disaster risk policies and planning. This will be the next challenges," Salvano Briceno, director of the ISDR secretariat, said in a statement. Donors have already provided some US $8 million for setting up the early warning system by the end of 2006.
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