News & Media
News and Media
Five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December, 2004, a new SEI study shows that early warning systems established in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand still need improvement.
- A shortcoming of international support for early warning system development in the Indian Ocean region has been the overwhelming emphasis on technocratic approaches, says Frank Thomalla, an academic at Macquarie University in Sydney and former SEI researcher who led the research on disaster preparedness.
- Technology alone cannot be the answer. Most people will probably agree with this statement, but despite this, there is comparably little attention paid to the human aspects of early warning system development, he says.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was one of the worst disasters in recorded history, triggering an unprecedented worldwide humanitarian response. More than US$7 billion in humanitarian aid was donated to support relief and recovery in tsunami-hit countries.
Part of that funding has gone towards supporting governments to establish early warning systems that include data collection buoys, earthquake sensors and beachfront warning towers that broadcast a siren when triggered from a national warning centre.
See video with Frank Thomalla here (time: 00:03:19)
Problems with early warning systems in the region
SEI researchers say that recent disasters in the region have shown that early warning systems in the region face both technical and social challenges in efficient dissemination of information and guidance at the local level.
- Information was on the local radio stations, but apparently only a few people tuned in. It took quite some time until the information reached the majority of the people, and even then, many were unsure what to do. Those who evacuated found themselves in a massive traffic jam. The region is diverse, so many different solutions are needed at the local level, Thomalla says, referring to the Padang earthquake of 30 September.
Other issues include the lack of information in local languages, lack of guidance at the local level in interpreting policies and guidelines for early warning, and a perception of top-down approaches.
- At the local level in Thailand, there are lots of different policies and people have competing priorities. To really get action on the ground, disaster risk reduction should be linked to other important priorities, such as livelihood improvement and natural resources management. People are more likely to make a change when they perceive that it is to their benefit, says SEI researcher Sopon Naruchaikusol.
Recommendations from early warning systems research
The SEI report, 'From Knowledge To Action: Learning To Go The Last Mile’(pdf, 6,41 mb), released by SEI’s Asia Centre in Bangkok, says that:
- Information designed to help countries prepare for disaster events needs to become more relevant, using local languages and involving local people in shaping policies
- Targets for adequate disaster preparedness should be jointly negotiated at the local government level and with people who are actively involved in preparing for disasters
- Information and processes that are currently top-down need to take into account the different priorities and thinking that prevail at the local level
- Space should be created for critical reflection on how policies are being implemented on the ground
Considerable social change required
While post-tsunami aid efforts are winding down, the researchers conclude that the lessons from the tsunami recovery process can help to address the challenges of adapting to climate change around the region.
- While some good efforts have been made, not enough is currently being done in many cases to truly address the underlying reasons of the vulnerabilities of individuals and communities, not only to tsunamis but to other shocks and surprises, says Dr Thomalla.
- Some of these relate to the broader political ecology that keeps people in poverty and social marginalized, and addressing these will require considerable social change, he says.
The report, 'From Knowledge To Action: Learning To Go The Last Mile’(pdf, 6,41 mb), comes out of a four-year programme of Sustainable Recovery and Resilience Building in the Tsunami-Affected Region, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
SEI collaborated with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre, the Raks Thai Foundation (part of CARE International) and Macquarie University in preparing the report.
Download the report here (pdf, 6,41 mb)
Download policy brief (pdf, 581 kb)
See report of a 2008 regional dialogue on early warning entitled "Linking Communities and Technology in the Indian Ocean Region".
See case study in Krabi Province on disaster risk reduction and tsunami early warning systems