Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Call for a binding intergovernmental agreement for an ocean observation system

Two years ago, on 26 December 2004, a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean took more than 200,000 lives. A regional tsunami warning system might have greatly reduced the death toll, but none existed at the time. UNESCO immediately took action to begin the creation of such a system. An Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system exists today and is capable of warning authorities in 27 countries of the impending arrival of another tidal wave.

Today the Director-General of UNESCO, Ko├»chiro Matsuura, announced a new partnership between UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which has coordinated the planning and implementation of this system, and the global satellite communications leader, INMARSAT, provides free satellite communication links to 50 sea-level sensors in the Indian Ocean, making this part of the tsunami warning system the most advanced real-time sea-level network in the world.

In making the announcement he remarked:
UNESCO’s IOC is committed to helping all countries in the world’s danger zones to building their national warning systems as part of the global tsunami and other ocean-related hazards warning system, right down to the last mile. I am pleased to report that real progress has been achieved in the Indian Ocean and work is well underway on warning systems for the North Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Region and the Caribbean, and the upgrading of the system in the Pacific. It must continue.

I am convinced that the data concerned must be considered as a Global Public Good. I therefore believe that its free and open exchange needs be upgraded to the level of a universal binding intergovernmental agreement, in order to commit nations to sustaining an integrated ocean observing system. Only when such an instrument exists will there be any guarantee that the extraordinary technology being deployed and the vast human and financial resources being mobilized will fulfill the promise that we, the international community, have made to better protect peoples’ lives and well being from such catastrophes as the tsunami that shook the world two years ago.

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