Science could have saved thousands from tsunami

Tsunami damage at Wuhring, Flores Island, Indonesia in 1992 Copyright: NOAA / Harry Yeh

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The earthquake that caused widespread devastation in the Indian Ocean on 26 December was detected immediately by global networks of seismometers operated by developed countries, and its potential to form a tsunami was quickly recognised.

But the poor countries subsequently affected lack both the sensors required to detect and track a tsunami, and the infrastructure needed to take advantage of disaster alerts.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, seismologist Arthur Lerner-Lam and two of his colleagues say that technology that could have reduced the tsunami’s death toll and the damage it caused already exists, and is not expensive.

They say the same applies to hurricanes in the Caribbean, drought in Africa, landslides in the Andes, and that access to knowledge and technology that can protect lives should be a human right.

However, they say, disaster recovery funds are rarely used to pay for infrastructure needed to mitigate future events, despite the costs of pre-emptive action being lower than the costs of responding to a disaster.

Highlighting this, the authors call for greater investment by rich countries in scientific and technological capacity of poorer countries. This, they say, would not only reduce the impact of disasters in such countries, but also boost their development.

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