Future tsunami warning system stalled by international bickering

From Nature (subscription required)

A plan to set up a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean — and eventually the whole world — received enthusiastic support in Kobe, Japan, last week. But observers cautioned that the job is being made harder by a lack of coordination and data sharing between countries.

Coordination is necessary both to ensure that resources are not wasted and to avoid potential confusion from conflicting warnings, says Laura Kong, director of the International Tsunami Information Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. “Instruments in the Indian Ocean are currently owned and used by a number of countries. We must ensure coordination and sharing of data,” she says.

But so far coordination has been seen as lacking. One US representative, for example, noted at the conference that he had learned more about Germany’s technical plans by talking to the press than from meetings with German representatives themselves.

India has also been criticized for not sharing tide-gauge data that are essential for understanding the ocean’s dynamics, and for refusing access to some researchers keen to study the country and its islands in the wake of the earthquake.

As we’ve sadly witnessed, tsunamis are inherently international disasters. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission should play the pivotal role in international disaster prediction and detection in this regard and bring all contributor nations to the same table to coordinate their efforts constructively.