JAKARTA — A tsunami alert system for Indian Ocean countries officially kicked off Wednesday, almost seven years after massive tsunami triggered by a major earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra Island left at least 230,000 people dead or missing. The system has been promoted by UNESCO and supported by Japan and the U.S., following the realization that the lack of a tsunami warning system contributed to the scale of the disaster.
Twenty-three countries participated in a full-scale exercise Wednesday to test the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System, or IOTWS.
The scenario of the so-called IOWAVE (Indian Ocean Wave) exercise replicates the parameters of the 9.2-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Indonesia's Aceh region on Dec. 26, 2004.
Newly established Regional Tsunami Service Providers in Australia, India and Indonesia, as well as the Meteorological Agency in Japan and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued bulletins containing information about the earthquake to the participating countries.
The simulated quake was later followed by an oceanwide tsunami, whose wave has been predicted to cross the Indian Ocean within 12 hours to strike the coast of South Africa.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization initially aimed to establish the system in the wake of the 2004 catastrophe.
In January 2005, participants at the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Reduction unanimously agreed to build a system covering the entire ocean area. A delay in completion, however, forced UNESCO to operate the system on a provisional basis since 2005.
Since then, bulletins have been issued to 28 Indian Ocean nations by the Meteorological Agency and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. They will continue to provide this service until the end of 2012, at which time an evaluation of the new regional advisory service will be carried out.
"In the past six years, we have depended on the PTWC and JMA to get information about tsunami happening in the Indian Ocean," Suhardjono, head of the tsunami and earthquake division at the Jakarta-based Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, said.
"From today, however, when something happens in the Indian Ocean, we can get information and distribute it to other countries. This is a significant progress, because we will not depend any longer on the PTWC and JMA."