Asian nations agree on many tsunami warning centres

Associated Press

Phuket, January 29:

Delegates at a conference in Thailand today decided to create several regional tsunami-warning centres around southern Asia that would protect the area from killer waves, a UN official said.

The two-day meeting at tsunami-battered Phuket island had considered a Thai proposal to make a Bangkok-based disaster prevention centre the hub of the Indian Ocean region but chose to have several centres after other nations objected.

“There will not be one regional centre,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, special envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She added that there are “a number of institutions” around the Indian Ocean that could serve as smaller regional centres.

India and Indonesia have also offered to host such centres that would collect seismic and other data from around the region, analyse it and issue tsunami warnings.

The two-day meeting, which opened yesterday, gathered delegates from 57 countries and agencies to thrash out how to create a network that would quickly warn nations of coming tsunamis so coastal areas could evacuate. It followed a broader meeting in Japan earlier this month. A tsunami-warning system has operated for decades in the Pacific Ocean, where a centre in Hawaii issues alerts to 26 nations. Experts say many of the more than 145,000 lives lost in the December 26 southern Asia disaster could have been saved with even a few minutes advance notice.

In Sri Lanka, the US military said it would withdraw all troops involved in relief there by February 15 after earlier announcing a gradual pullout from Indonesia.

There had been fears that the gradual departure of US forces from both Indonesia and Sri Lanka would leave aid groups struggling to deliver food, medicine and other supplies. But relief workers say they are optimistic the needs will be met.

At the peak of the tsunami relief in Sri Lanka, 1,600 US troops were involved in relief operations and delivered more than 600,000 pounds of relief supplies, said Brig Gen Frank A Panter Jr, commanding general of the 3rd Service Support Group. Elsewhere, the United Nations urged donor countries to quickly convert their tsunami aid pledges into money.

Malloch Brown, head of the UN Development Programme, war-ned yesterday that although most emergency needs of victims of the disaster have been met, the longer-term recovery effort is underfunded by millions of dollars.