Copyright: Zacarias Pereira da Mata

Political will closes our eyes

A child has fallen down the well, but it is not our well – and not our child.

This attitude represents the relationship between the EU and the proposal of a Mediterranean tsunami early warning system following the devastating tragedy in Japan. At a press conference at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna in April 2011, experts Stefano Tinti from the University of Bologna, Italy, and Jörn Lauterjung of the German Geosciences Research Centre in Potsdam (GFZ) pointed out that “the technology has already been developed and proved it’s applicability but the political will is missing.”

Tsunamis are not a Japanese or Indonesian phenomena. The Mediterranean has been the battlefield of devastating monster waves as well. The French, Algerian, Greek and Italian shorelines have been affected. Mediterranean Tsunamis are generated by earthquakes that occur along the plate boundary of the African and Eurasian plates. Scientists do not expect wave heights of 38 metres like in Japan these days, but the potential devastation to infrastructure and life are real.

The German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System GITEWS, which was officially handed over to Indonesian authorities in late march 2011, could take an exemplary and leading role. The German Geosciences Research Centre GFZ in Potsdam has developed the know-how and technology over the last five years and is ready to install a similar system in the Mediterranean. However, a political framework has to be developed, which will be much more complex than the technical realisation of the early warning system itself.

For example, there has to be a standard operational procedure for a case-sensible reaction. This has to rely on information and measurements from the neighbouring countries. The political diversity of protocols and the various stakeholders and decision makers have to be coordinated and integrated. And even if this will be realised and conducted within the EU-frame, how can we co-operate and integrate the southern Mediterranean countries like Algeria, Tunisia or Libya?

The political will should follow the demands. The scientist are prepared, the technology is ready to go, even the information infrastructure is in the focus of developers across Europe. But without a clear vote from the EU Parliament, the essential lifesaving measures can not be initiated. Specialist from Japan, who were also present at the press conference in Vienna made a crucial point – without the Japanese Tsunami Early Warning System up to 200,000 lives could have been lost. Fortunately, Japan invested early in tsunami and earthquake research and early warning.

We are talking about 100 million Euro to impliment a system in Europe – pocket change when you compare to recent banking bailouts.

Featured image credit: Zacarias Pereira da Mata via Shutterstock

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