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Heeding the Tsunami's Lessons

srilankatsunami.jpgThe Indian Ocean tsunami that killed nearly a quarter of a million people hit almost a year ago, and the latest issue of Science includes several articles addressing some of the lessons. Unfortunately, as is all too common, political rivalries and bureaucratic intransigence could well mean that the next disaster hits just as hard as the last. As is typical for Science, most of these articles require a paid subscription, but SciDev.net and UNESCO News provide details of two of the key pieces.

In "Indian Ocean Tsunami: Girding for the Next Wave," Richard Stone and Richard Kerr look at the sluggish response to the call for improved ocean monitoring. Early signs of cooperation were consumed by debates over who would host the monitoring center and the availability of real-time data. Time is of the essence, however -- the fault line on which the 9.3 December 2004 earthquake hit is more active, and a new study shows that another big quake in the area could be just as devastating.

In "A Dead Spot for the Tsunami Network" (the full article may be viewed here for now), Pallava Bagla gives us a reminder that it's not just the dominant Western powers that can be dangerously stubborn. India is refusing to provide real-time seismic and ocean level data, despite having the currently-best regional monitoring network, because of security fears. The ocean level data could be used by an enemy nation invading by the sea, India claims, and the seismic data could reveal more information about their nuclear tests than they care to acknowledge.

India's reluctance to share data could come back to haunt it. India has refused to hook up its vaunted array of seismometers to the Global Seismographic Network, 128 stations that record temblors and listen for signatures of nuclear detonations to help verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which India has not joined. The seismic network is crucial to quickly pinpointing a quake's magnitude and location-- and for analyzing tsunami threats.

These are not stories of solutions, but they're important nonetheless. These articles clearly demonstrate that, no matter how apparent the need and useful the technology, success requires us to grapple with long-standing social and political fears, uncertainties and doubts. There is no such thing as a purely technical solution -- every solution must be enabled and supported by society.

Comments (1)

Interesting article. And great photo... great, but scary.


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