- As the official tally of the dead and missing from last
month's tsunami climbed above 298,000, delegates from 43 countries meeting
in Thailand yesterday agreed to set up a regional early warning system
that might prevent such a massive loss of life in the future.
- The news came as the death toll from the disaster continued
to rise relentlessly. As predicted in last Sunday's IoS, the numbers who
will eventually be listed as killed by the wave now seem set to exceed
300,000. The British totals are 54 confirmed dead, and 194 missing.
- Officials had gathered to discuss an early-warning system
on Phuket, a tourist island where thousands were swept away in earthquake-powered
waves five weeks ago. After two days of talks, delegates had been unable
to agree on where to base the new network or how to fund it.
- Thailand, India, and Indonesia had each promoted themselves
as the ideal location to base a regional warning centre.
- It took a written plea from Kofi Annan, the United Nations
General Secretary, before a compromise was reached. Now the UN is to co-ordinate
a tsunami alert system in the Indian Ocean similar to the established one
in the Pacific Ocean. The aim is for the expanded warning system to be
operable within a year and to keep costs to US$30m (£16m).
- Mr Annan wrote: "Our challenge now is to ensure
that all the elements of effective early warning systems are integrated
and cover not only tsunamis but also other hazards such as cyclones and
- Jean-Michel Rainer, from the UN World Meteorological
Organisation, earlier cautioned against a politically expedient proposal
to substitute several small centres because they could prompt more false
alarms. Unnecessary evacuations are costly and undermine confidence in
- "The impact of false alarms can be serious,"
he said. Yet, since even 15 minutes' notice could have saved thousands
of lives and prevented millions of pounds of damage, delegates dismissed
this nuisance factor and approved a decentralised approach.
- They also agreed that the system be calibrated to forecast
more frequent natural disasters that ravage the tropics. "In our region,
we have cyclones that occur every year," said Sateeaved Seebaluck,
from the Mauritius Ministry of Environment. "With climate change,
we have to face other events that will lead to other disasters."
- Efforts to extend and improve existing seismic-detection
equipment and communication networks are already under way. Data will be
collected and analysed so timely alerts can be issued to danger zones.
The whole network will be linked with the Hawaii-based tsunami centre as
part of an eventual global warning system.
- Meanwhile, bilateral talks between Indonesia and separatist
rebels, taking place in Helsinki, got off to a smoother start than the
sprawling convention of politicians and aid agencies in Phuket.
- It was the first encounter between the warring sides
for nearly two years.
- Indonesian negotiators were headed by the chief security
minister, Widodo Adi Sutjipto. They talked for 12 hours on Friday about
collaborating to rebuild hard-hit Aceh after the disaster triggered by
the Sumatra earthquake left 230,000 people dead or missing across the country.
- Touchy political issues were avoided, according to rebel
sources, who said the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and senior Indonesian
officials discussed the best use of international aid money. In the aftermath
of the disaster, expectations are running nearly as high as the sums involved.
- An anti-corruption activist in Banda Aceh, arrested last
week on suspicion of stealing aid, continued to be held in custody after
allegedly being beaten by four soldiers.
- Farid Faqih, chief of the Government Watch group, was
contracted by the UN World Food Programme to help build a tent city for
the homeless. Last week he was detained on suspicion of stealing two truckloads
of food, medicine and computers. He and his supporters insist that nothing
was diverted from the disaster relief programme.
- The abuse of Farid Faqih, whose bruised face has appeared
in media reports, has drawn attention to police and army excesses in Indonesia.
- "We demand that the police release him. We reject
the police accusation that Farid had stolen aid donation," his lawyer,
Daniel Panjaitan, told reporters.
- Indonesia's military said it was questioning an army
captain about the beating.
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.