Mediterranean, North Atlantic Preparing for UN-backed Tsunami Warning System Test


Human Wrongs Watch

Some 20 nations with coastlines on the North Atlantic, and Mediterranean and Black Seas are set to participate in a United Nations-supervised tsunami warning exercise to improve their ability to respond to an alert and enhance regional coordination in the event of a disaster.

A view of the destruction caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 in Point Pedro, a small fishing village in northern Sri Lanka. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

In a press statement released on 23 October 2014 , the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – the body coordinating the warning test since its first implementation in 2005 – reported that four tsunami simulations will be carried out between 28 and 30 October in an effort to assess the overall reactivity of countries participating in the Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System for the North-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas (NEAMTWS).*

Densely Populated 

Although tsunamis are not as frequent an occurrence in this area of the globe as they are in the Pacific Ocean, the shores of the Mediterranean and North Atlantic are densely populated prompting concern that tsunami shockwaves could strike and cause widespread damage and fatalities. In 1755, for instance, a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Azores-Gibraltar Fault Zone destroyed Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

Another devastating tsunami swept over Messina, Italy in 1908, claiming tens of thousands of lives. And, more recently, in 2003, an earthquake in Algeria set off a tsunami that struck the shores of Spain’s Balearic Islands and the southern coast of France.

Photo: UNESCO |  UN-organized tsunami readiness test in Indian Ocean nations

Photo: UNESCO | UN-organized tsunami readiness test in Indian Ocean nations

UNESCO noted that due to the short distances they travel in small bodies of water such as the Mediterranean, tsunami occurrences there strike shores with “great speed.”

According to the UN body, the upcoming exercise, named NEAMWave14, is based on a scenario in which four earthquakes unleash two tsunami events in the Mediterranean, one in the Atlantic Ocean, and one in the Black Sea.

A Wide Range of Countries

The Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute in Turkey, the National Tsunami Alert Centre in France, the National Observatory of Athens in Greece and the Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute, will send out the alerts, kick-starting the exercise, which set to involve a wide range of countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

“The exercise will be an opportunity to test the efficiency of the communication systems in charge of transmitting tsunami alerts and, in some countries, to ensure that the authorities in charge of public safety are prepared to face such a threat,” UNESCO explained in its press release.

NEAMTWS is one of four regional systems which are coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) globally. Similar systems already exist for the Pacific and Indian oceans and for the Caribbean. (*Source: UN Release).

2014 Human Wrongs Watch

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