International Cooperation for Tsunami Warning and Mitigation in the Pacific
Suva – International collaboration must be made stronger to make communities resilient to tsunamis, which are among the deadliest of natural hazards. This is especially important for the Pacific countries which are experiencing both arise in sea levels due to climate change, and the need to manage compounded and cascading disasters.
This was the message expressed by government and international organisations representatives at a special webinar to commemorate World Tsunami Awareness Day in the Pacific under the theme of enhancing international cooperation.
“However rare they might be, tsunamis are the single most deadly of all sudden onset natural hazards.” said Ms. Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction in her opening video message.
Ms. Mizutori announced UNDRR’s support for the establishment of the Ocean Decade Tsunami Programme under the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which has the potential to fill capability gaps to speed up the detection and warning for tsunamis even from the near instant that they form.
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (UNESCO-IOC) assembly of UN member states had recently approved the establishment of the programme and a Scientific Committee to draft a 10 year research, development, and implementation plan for the programme.
“Only together can we achieve this ambition,” said Ms. Mizutori.
Mr. Marco Toscano-Rivalta, Chief of the UNDRR Regional Office for Asia-Pacific, echoed her message and said UNDRR was increasing its support to the Pacific, especially around early warning and action.
He noted that together with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the World Bank, UNDRR had recently launched a four-year project to enhance effective and inclusive national and regional early warning systems, including through the integration of the needs of women and persons with disabilities.
Nevertheless, he underscored that much more needs to be done to enhance preparedness and resilience in the region.
“This year’s World Tsunami Awareness Day aims to amplify this message by calling for increased International Cooperation, in line with Target F of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction,” said Mr. Toscano-Rivalta.
One opportunity he highlighted was the ongoing COP26 conference, where he called on developed countries to raise their levels of commitment for increased financing for climate change adaptation, especially for the least developed countries which seek to graduate to middle income status.
Mr. Ofa Fa’anunu, Vice chair of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/PTWS) started his remarks by explaining their origin.
He said that PTWS was established in 1965 in response to the 1960 Southern Chile Earthquake event, which generated a Pacific-wide tsunami that travelled across the region causing substantial damage and loss of life, especially in the Pacific Coast of Chile, Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.
He said that the creation of PTWS is a testament to the benefits of international cooperation in strengthening local, national, regional and global tsunami warning and mitigation system.
Mr. Ofa Fa’anunu reported that the upcoming 30th meeting of ICG/PTWS in December 2021, the group is expected to endorse a new Medium-Term Strategy that will outline short-medium and long-term priorities. Among those priorities will be the promotion of the decisions and resolutions adopted in June 2021 at the 31st Session of the UNESCO/IOC Assembly, including the Ocean Decade Tsunami Programme.
In a video message, H.E. Mr. Fumihiro Kawakami, Ambassador of Japan to Fiji, recalled the experiences of Japan in dealing with tsunamis, saying that “in March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that devastated our north-eastern coastal regions.“
“These experiences and lessons learnt have driven us to work hard in developing ways to enhance tsunami disaster risk reduction as well as to build back better.” said Ambassador Kawakami.
He highlighted different ways Japan was contributing to tsunami resilience in the Pacific, including Japan’s Official Development Assistance to help countries acquire advanced technology and improve critical hardware and funding for regional projects such the “Partnerships for Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia Pacific Region,” which is being implemented by UNDP since 2017. In addition, Japan was providing technical assistance through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and has been hosting the High School Students Tsunami Summit since 2016.
The Ambassador confirmed Japan’s commitment to continuing its collaboration with countries and international organizations for enhancing disaster risk reduction in the Pacific region.
Ms. Esline Garaebiti, the Director General of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, Environment, Energy and Disaster Management, said that maintaining a “tsunami warning system is one of the main priorities of the government of Vanuatu,” through her ministry. It is such a high priority, that improving the monitoring and early warning systems for natural hazards like tsunamis is one of the key pillars of Vanuatu’s National Strategic Development Plan 2030.
International support has been critical to helping Vanuatu increase its tsunami preparedness. Examples she gave included support from Japan for, such as establishment of a tsunami warning system, development of evacuation plans and the provision of capacity building. Another example is the country’s tsunami detection system, which was supported by the governments of France, Japan and New Zealand.
These efforts were supplemented by support from UNESCO’s International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC), which contributed awareness raising tools that helped Vanuatu develop its own tsunami awareness raising material, which were distributed to schools, communities and the general public.
Mr. Arona Ngari, Director of the Cook Islands Meteorological Services, recalled how his country was affected by 1960 Chilean Tsunami and the more recent 2006 Tonga earthquake, which generated a tsunami that reached the islands only 19 minutes after the quake. The Services have benefited from collaborating with WMO around information communication and capacity building of staff.
Dr. Laura Kong, Director of the ITIC, which is based Hawaii, USA, reminded participants that around 70% of tsunamis in the world happened in the marginal seas of the Pacific, and that 99% of deaths by tsunamis in the Pacific were from local and regional tsunamis that can hit in minutes or a few hours. To help local communities understand their risks and better prepare, she gave an overview of the UNESCO IOC Tsunami Ready programme, which aims to make all communities at risk of Tsunami prepared for and resilient by 2030. The programme, she explained, has twelve indicators, standard guidelines, and is facilitated by ITIC. Currently, a number of Pacific Island Countries and Territories are working to get certified as Pacific Tsunami Ready.
The “World Tsunami Awareness Day 2021 Pacific Webinar: International Cooperation for Tsunami Warning and Mitigation in Pacific Island Countries” was co-organized by UNDRR’s Pacific Subregional Office and UNESCO-IOC, and was moderated by Ms. Litea Biukoto, Team Leader for Disaster Risk at the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division of the Pacific Community. Approximately 90 people from across the world attended the event.
Recording can be accessed here.