Scientists from about 150 countries got to work Tuesday on an action plan to save lives during disasters through planning and warnings amid the shock over the Asian tsunami catastrophe.
The five-day World Conference on Disaster Reduction was originally designed as a meeting of scientists and low-level civil servants on the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Kobe from which the city has rapidly rebuilt.
But the conference has taken on a new momentum after the giant waves on December 26 killed more than 168,000 people and led to outrage as to why Indian Ocean nations were so ill-prepared.
UN chief humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland, who has become a leading face in the global rush to help tsunami survivors, said he attached "high hopes" to the meeting here.
"After the tsunami, I think everybody expects concrete results coming out of Kobe," Egeland said in the Japanese city on the eve of the meeting.
The more than 3,000 delegates here are expected to write up guidelines on how to move forward in setting up a warning system. Registrations of participants have doubled since the tsunamis.
The conference is due to be inaugurated by Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, one of the most disaster-prone developed countries which has vowed to relate its know-how for the cause of relief.
Thursday has been devoted to studying ways to cope with tsunamis, massive waves caused by earthquakes which can be closely predicted by researchers in Japan, the United States and other Pacific countries but until now not in Indian Ocean nations.
Koichiro Matsuura, head of the UN education and scientific agency UNESCO, told a meeting last week in Mauritius that an Indian Ocean warning system would have cost a measly 30 million dollars - a fraction of the economic cost of the disaster.
Matsuura said a warning system for the Indian Ocean was expected to be functional by June 2006 and a global system in place a year later.
Japan, which has tried to play a high-profile role in the disaster relief, has offered to foot four million dollars of the bill for the tsunami warning system out of its 500 million dollars pledged to help victims of the tragedy.
But Egeland stressed an effective alert system would need to consider not just tsunamis but all sorts of natural disasters which can take enormous tolls unless countries have plans in place on how to cope with them.
The tsunamis have drawn an outpouring of global sympathy in part because of the unprecedented international nature of the natural disaster - nationals of more than 50 countries died or remain missing.
But the natural disaster considered to be the deadliest of the 20th century was confined to one country: cyclones which in 1970 tore apart the coast of Bangladesh, then part of Pakistan, killing about 300,000 people.
Japan will reportedly propose to the conference setting up a database with information on relief and reconstruction that can be dispensed after catastrophes around the world.
Hyogo Prefecture, which includes Kobe, proposed Monday on the earthquake anniversary the city also host a global post-disaster coordination center ready to dispatch experts and pass on education to victims of future catastrophes.
More than 6,400 people were killed in the Kobe earthquake, the worst in modern times to hit a city in the developed world, with economic damage estimated at up to 100 billion dollars.
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Major Caribbean Earthquakes And Tsunamis A Real Risk
Woods Hole MA (SPX) Jan 13, 2005
A dozen major earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have occurred in the Caribbean near Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the past 500 years, and several have generated tsunamis.
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