08/05/2005, 00.00
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UN body announces early tsunami warning system now in place

System is designed to provide early warning to countries that might be on killer wave's path, but still cannot avoid false alarms caused by seabed quakes.

Perth (AsiaNews/Agencies) – If another big tsunami were to roll across the Indian Ocean, it will probably be detected and threatened nations would be alerted, said Patricio Bernal, of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)—which is spearheading an Indian Ocean warning system.

The UN official is Perth (Western Australia) where he presided over the first meeting of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System.

"Yes, we can confirm the presence of tsunami today," Mr Bernal said. However, the current system cannot determine whether a tsunami would merely ripple onto sun-spangled beaches of the Indian Ocean rim, or turn into monster waves wiping out towns and villages.

Pacific warning centres in Tokyo and Honolulu now have a network of experts in Indian Ocean nations to contact when data indicate an earthquake capable of causing a tsunami.

What the system cannot do though is minimise the many false alarms that come with sizeable earthquakes on the seabed.

"It's insufficient, yes!" Mr Bernal said. "But at least we can confirm it now and that's something we couldn't do even at the end of March."

There were no tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean when the strongest earthquake in 40 years struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on December 26, last year, triggering a record tsunami that killed more than 232,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

Bernal announced that by July of next year, another system will be installed, involving a series of high tech pressure gauges that would more quickly—less than ten minutes—warn national authorities around the Indian Ocean of an approaching tsunami.

The Perth meeting, which winds down on Sunday, has attracted some 100 representatives from 29 countries.

The discussions centred on finding technical and scientific solutions to problems related to the effects of tides and water pressure on the string of tidal gauges.

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