Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tsunami Physics and Preparedness - Meeting at ICTP

The International Centre for Theoretical Physics organized a workshoop on the Tsunami in Trieste Italy on the 24th of March , 2005. I was one of the speakers on the topic of
Science, Disaster Management and Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

See details

Meeting Report

This seminar was organized by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics which was founded by Abdus Salaam, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize, to support scientific advancement in poor countries. I had attended one workshop on topographic effects on climate modelling at this centre in 1997 and had been an Associate Member thereafter.

The Tsunami Physics and Preparedness meeting had been organized by the ICTP, as a response to the Indian Ocean event. There were two aspects to the meeting - the morning concerned the role that ICTP can play through its programs in the countries on the Indian Ocean littoral and the afternoon concerned the Adriatic Seas.

The ICTP functioned initially under the sponsorship of IAEA and later in addition of UNESCO. UNESCO is taking a lead role in the UN system in creating a framework for international agencies to work on a response to the Tsunami. It had convened a meeting in Paris from March 3-8 that sought to establish a network of countries that could cooperate on Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. This meeting had been attended by two of the speakers at the ICTP meeting Francois Schindele (UNESCO, Paris) and Karim Aoudia (ICTP, Italy). Informally, I learnt of the impressions that they had of these meeting. The presentationof the Sri Lanka delegation (comprising a Diplomat (Prasad Kariyawasam) and Directors of the Meteorological, Acquatic Research and Geological Survey and a Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Moratuwa) is heavy on the technical side. The Sri Lankan delegation was at the center of attention given the grevious problems in Sri Lanka. It does seem that issues of vulnerability reduction did not receive much attention here. The next meeting is due to be held in Mauritius in May.

The seminar was intended to initiate an ICTP contribution to disaster reduction. The Director of the ICTP underlined the large numbers who died and the need to response. The meetings was good at capturing the physics of tsunamis and the potential for various disciplines particularly geophysics to contribute to it. The afternoon session was focussed on Tsunami risk in the Adriatic seas and risk and vulnerability assessment locally. The ICTP hostel that I stayed was barely 10 meters from this sea. This part of the seminar highlighted the local expertise that could be drawn on in future ICTP work.

At the end, a communique from the meeting offered ICTP services in training and physics in support of the UNESCO sponsored international activities. Physcists of course find the science of earthquakes and tsunami warnings, more relevant than the areas of disaster preparedness or risk management or vulnerability reduction. I argued that if the objective was to help contribute to reducing the destructiveness of Tsunamis and other hazards, vulnerability reduction was the best investment followed by disaster preparedness. There can be warning systems but investments of time, effort and resources are now being overly dedicated to warning systems.