Thirteen years ago from today, the Indian Ocean suffered an immense loss following the Tsunami which was the result of the third biggest earthquake recorded in the history. Originated off the coast of Indonesia (West coast of Sumatra) the Tsunami severely damaged eight countries in the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa (Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Somalia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Maldives) while the tides even reached far away countries like Tanzania, Seychelles and Yemen. Estimated death toll reported from Indonesia was 167,799 while in Sri Lanka and India the estimated loss of lives was 35,322 and 18,045 respectively. This is one of the largest loss of lives in during last century in Asia. The tides were reported in the range of 15-30 meters in Sumatra. During this period, there was no early warning system for Tsunami and therefore, a chance to mitigate the huge loss of life was missed.


   Now, after 13 years since the boxing day disaster, “Is there a proper warning system in place?” is the big question. An Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System was agreed to in a United Nations conference held in January 2005 in Kobe, Japan by The Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWMS) as an initial step towards an International Early Warning Programme. Dr. Sam Hettiarachchi from the Department of Civil Engineering at University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka was  a part of this coordination group while Dr. Andi Eka Sakya from Indonesia chaired the group. The ICG/IOTWMS undertakes a major basin-wide exercise every two years. The next IOWave18 Exercise is planned for  September 2018 Read more. The institutions like ITCOocean can further contribute to strengthen the system and serve countries around the Indian Ocean rim (26 from Asia and Africa). Over the years the hardware and other resources put in from each of the countries have contributed to steadily build up this system and more often than not has been drawn back by irresponsible human acts starting from cases of vandalism. 

 Additionally, in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that India, the United States, Japan and Australia would set up an international coalition to coordinate rescue and rehabilitation operations. However, this idea has not yet put into action due to the uncertainties of diplomatic relations between the powerhouses of the world. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka still has to figure out some key  techniques of dealing with a major disaster. There are no proper communication mechanisms yet been put in place to get early warnings sent directly to communities before a crisis hits. More than new year wishes from politicians on a new years day, the communities which are quite vulnerable against natural disasters would appreciate an early warning system that delivers accurate warnings to their handheld devices. The Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center (DMC) has mooted the use of bulk SMS to warn citizen of adverse weather conditions. However some feel that bulk sms could clog the network and the message may not reach vulnerable groups  in time. One other option the officials can use is to employ ‘cell broadcasts’ directly to the mobile device. We hope the government will fast track their efforts to bring the real-time warning system online.

Additional readings:

United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)