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UN, China Seek Ways to Reduce Disasters

"I want to see that every coastal country around South Asia and Southeast Asia has at least a basic but effective tsunami warning system in place by this time next year," said Salvano Briceno, director of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), in a statement issued Wednesday.

The technology to detect undersea earthquakes such as the one off Indonesia that unleashed Sunday's devastating tidal waves is used elsewhere, and that information could be shared with other vulnerable coastal communities, said Briceno.

The ISDR chief said that what is needed is an international system for countries to share knowledge of seismic events coupled with efficient domestic communication networks allowing governments to transmit warnings quickly to communities at risk.

The Caribbean and the Mediterranean as well as the Indian Ocean are all on fault lines and also at risk, Briceno noted.

Professor Liu Defu, director of the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at the Ocean University of China, said that China should lower the threshold on its prevention gauges, taking into account all factors that might combine to lead to a catastrophe.

Liu has been studying ways to prevent and control the potentially devastating effects of marine disasters at the university in east China's Shandong Province.

"A tsunami alert system is necessary for China despite the slight possibility of such a catastrophe hitting the country," he said.

There are no historical records of China ever having been hit by a tsunami. Nevertheless, according to Liu, the nation needs a comprehensive monitoring network for marine disaster prevention, since its coastal areas are vulnerable to storm surges created by typhoons.

"Storm surges and tsunamis have different causes, but they might result in similar tragedies," he said.

A storm surge that hit Zhejiang Province on August 17, 1997, affected 21.7 million people in 75 counties. It led to 147 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries and a direct economic loss of 18.6 billion yuan (US$2.3 billion).

The ISDR's World Conference on Disaster Reduction will be held in Japan later this month. Its purpose is to facilitate and promote disaster reduction policies and seek ways to increase the availability of disaster-related information to people and disaster management agencies around the globe.

(China Daily December 31, 2004)

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