We wish to believe

Posted on December 25, 2006  /  5 Comments

According to the Independent, Sri Lanka is the best prepared to communicate tsunami warnings to at-risk populations on the coast. We wish to believe this. But unlike the highly-trained journalist from the Independent, we have taken the trouble to ask a few questions:

1. Does Sri Lanka have a single national multi-hazard warning center?
2. Do the existing patchwork of centers (in the case of tsunamis, both the Geological Survey and the Met Department have responsibility) have a congestion proof communication system to convey the warning to the police stations?
NO. But there is a pilot project that involves 4 SMS based early warning devices placed in police stations.
3. Do the police stations have plans to disseminate the information to the affected communities?
4. Is there a mechanism for police stations to verify the information that they receive?
5. Has Sri Lanka conducted a nationwide tsunami drill?

If Sri Lanka is indeed the best prepared, we in the Indian Ocean are in pretty bad shape. But UK journalism is in as bad a shape.

Independent Online Edition > Asia

Even now, says Unesco, only five of the projected 16 buoys, and only 27 of the planned 50 gauges, have been installed. Governments around the ocean have not yet agreed fully to share information on an approaching tsunami, and few have adequate ways of getting warnings out to the people most at risk.

The best-prepared country is Sri Lanka, one of those worst hit two years ago, which has a system of transmitting warnings through its police stations. And Thailand – which was criticised after the tsunami for failing to pass on warnings, allegedly because it feared damaging its tourist industry – has set up a national disaster-warning centre, built watch towers along its coast, and drawn up a community-based evacuation plan.


  1. I fully agree with Prof Smarajiva ,in sense that the article on Independent is quite ill-informed.The fact is those warning systems only exist in the books. I think the minimum that Sri Lanka could have done during past 2 years to face such an emergency would be to upgrade the telecommunications infrastructure. So that one can simply make a phone call during an emergency! I think we have failed in that aspect as well.

  2. The greatest tribute that could have been paid to the tsunami victims of the Dec 26, 2004, is to have a working and tested early warning system deployed in all the affected countries that may have saved the lives of thousands if it were in place in 2004. But instead we got a giant Buddha statue unveiled in Peraliya, Sri Lanka by the President to remember the dead (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6209413.stm) and a cemetery for the unidentified dead. In Bali at least they held a mock tsunami drill.

    After all this chatter about a disaster management center and after attending innumerable international conferences, the government has found it prudent to leave the safety of its citizens in the hands of god. It is a far more cost-effective solution. No need to develop protocols for disseminating hazard warnings, deploy last-mile alerting technologies, build structures to mitigate disaster effects, train vulnerable villages, hold mock drills…Imagine how much of your tax-payers money is being saved by the government’s prudent action.

    Some of you may read the BBC and the Independent and complain about the govt’s wasteful expenditure on warning towers. Let me set the record straight on this. The 100 invisible towers built in Hikkaduwa reported by the BBC, have been erected using cutting-edge, zero-cost, dematerialized pre-fab material. The govt hasn’t spent a single penny of your hard earned income. So not to worry!

  3. Posting the same irrelevant comment on multiple threads is spamming. Using the name of a LIRNEasia team member to make this post is worse than spamming; it’s stupid.

    Cease and desist. We will block anyone who engages in this type of unacceptable behavior from the website.

  4. Has there been any verifiable progress made on these 5 counts?