“Once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve tsunami detection”

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United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
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5 November is World Tsunami Awareness Day

New York - Over 500 people joined an online high-level event to mark the 6th World Tsunami Awareness Day today. The accent was very much on science and youth, and the inclusion of tsunami risk in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

In his keynote speech, the Executive Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin, highlighted the risk of near-shore tsunamis and those caused by rockslides and volcanic eruptions.

During the UN Decade of Ocean Science, the existing technology will be improved to provide earlier detection of tsunami waves and improve early warning systems for both seismic and non-seismic tsunamis.

“We already have 11 tsunami service providers in the four regions, and we hope to increase their number, increase their capacity, increase their governmental support, and we need to work better with the emergency agencies to communicate and ensure that agencies really know what needs to be done.  So, for that, we are improving standard operating procedures, tsunami action plans. 

“We also need to educate people about tsunami.  We have four centers that are providing information about tsunamis, called Tsunami Information Centers, in all of the regions that are prone to seismic tsunamis.” These centres will be key to the effort to have all coastal communities certified by UNESCO-IOC as “Tsunami Ready” by 2030.

The UN Decade of Ocean Science will also feature a special programme for early career ocean professionals. 

He had the following advice for event participants: “So, if in the near‑shore area, there is a tremor, then it simply means that it may be an earthquake, and then there is no time to think about this.  We have to run to high ground, to safety.  That's basically the rule that everyone needs to know.” 

The event titled “Leveraging the power of science and technology to reduce tsunami risk for current and future generations” was  co‑hosted by the Permanent Missions of Japan, Fiji, Maldives, and Chile, countries united in their common experience of tsunamis in the past. 

The co‑chairs of the Group of Friends of Disaster Risk Reduction, the Permanent Missions of Australia, Norway, Peru and Indonesia,UNDP and UNESCO joined UNDRR as co-hosts.

In his opening remarks Dr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, called for investment in DRR and technology transfer for Small Island States and the least developed countries.

“Reducing tsunami risk for current and future generations requires that we put to use the incredible innovations in science and technology that are at our disposal.” 

Miyake Shingo, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan, recalled Japan’s contributions to tsunami risk reduction including a sea wall which saved the capital city of Maldives from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. 

“Japan has also assisted in the installment of a tsunami early warning system in the Indian Ocean through UNESCO.  Our recent technical cooperation projects include improving tsunami alert systems in Indonesia and Vanuatu, as well as tsunami modeling based on the latest seabed observation and data analysis technology in Mexico, just to name a few,” he said.

“Raising awareness of tsunami, especially among younger generations.  This is one reason why Japan strongly advocated the establishment of World Tsunami Awareness Day in 2015,” Mr. Shingo recalled.

Dr. Fiona Webster, Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations spoke as one of the Co‑Chairs of the Group of Friends for Disaster Risk Reduction Australia, Indonesia, Norway, and Peru.

Dr. Webster said the event was “a wonderful opportunity to showcase the skills and expertise of young people working in science and technology.” 

“In the Pacific, 90% of Pacific Islanders outside of Papua New Guinea live less than five kilometers from the ocean, and close to half live at low elevations, making them highly vulnerable to tsunamis and to storm surge,” she said, adding that Australia’s international risk reduction efforts focus on disaster and climate‑resilient infrastructure.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, said she was encouraged by progress since the first World Tsunami Awareness Day five years ago. 

“A growing number of communities in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the territories of the Pacific and Indian Ocean have received the prestigious Tsunami Ready Certification of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission,” she said.

“Most heartening of all is the work being done with the youth of climate‑vulnerable Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and across the Pacific,” she said.

Ms. Mizutori said that under the Safe Ocean Outcome of the UN Decade of Ocean Science, “we have a once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity to improve tsunami detection and early warning systems.  UNDRR welcomes and fully supports the stated ambition of making 100% of all communities at risk to be prepared for and resilient to tsunami through the implementation of the UNESCO IOC Tsunami Ready Programme and many other initiatives by 2030.”

Event moderator, journalist Shakuntala Santharan, introduced a series of video messages from youth and young professionals engaged in tsunami awareness and disaster risk reduction from Fiji, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Maldives, Mexico, and Tonga

Anna Shinke, Ph.D student at Tohoku University, Japan, experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on the day of her junior high school graduation in Iwake City, Fukushima Prefecture. 

“I was shocked to see my hometown destroyed by the tsunami. I strongly felt that such a painful experience should not be experienced by anyone again, and I want to reduce the number of people who die in disasters,” she said. 

Tongan islander, Josephine Falemaka, said the country’s youth need to be educated to spot the warning signs for a tsunami.

Nur Safitri Lasibani, a survivor of the 2018 Indonesia earthquake, said “we understand that the involvement of women and other vulnerable groups in disaster mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction is very important.”

There was a lively panel discussion featuring Dr. Nuraini Rahma Hanifa, Secretary General, U-INSPIRE Alliance, and researcher with Indonesia’s Research Center for Geotechnology, National Research and Innovation Agency; Ricardo Toro, Director, Office of National Emergencies (ONEMI), Chile; Ronald Jackson, Head of the Disaster Risk Reduction, Recovery for Building Resilience Team, UNDP; and Gina Bonne, Chargée de Mission, Gender and Risk Reduction, The Indian Ocean Commission.

In his closing remarks, the Permanent Representative of Japan, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane, said: “I think today's event has clearly demonstrated determination to prevent future tsunamis, disasters, and protect people through the use of science and technology.  In this regard, we cannot stress enough the importance of science and technology in policy and decision‑making.”

Ambassador Ishikane also noted: “Today we have also heard the powerful voices of young people.  Yes, very impressive.  Passing down the memories of the past tsunamis and the lessons learned from generation to generation is key to preventing future disasters and creating a more resilient society.  We should continue to listen to the youth, you know, the boys and girls, as well as to the elders, and think about how we can further work together, taking advantage of World Tsunami Awareness Day.” 

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