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October 28, 10

NEWS / Ban voices sadness at loss of life in Indonesian disasters

28 October 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property in Indonesia as a result of the eruption of the Mount Merapi volcano and the tsunami that affected residents of the country’s Mentawai Islands.

Mr. Ban extended his deepest condolences to the families of those who have died, been injured or made homeless by the two disasters whose effects are still unfolding tragedies.

“He acknowledges the work the Government of Indonesia is doing to help those affected, and expresses the readiness of the United Nations to contribute to those efforts,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that the tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia demonstrated the need for improving the disaster preparedness of coastal communities in vulnerable regions.

She noted that Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System functioned effectively during the magnitude-7.7 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, but warning messages could not be issued quickly enough to protect populations around Mentawai Islands.

“We must intensify our efforts to make sure communities on shorelines close to tsunami source zones know what to do when a strong earthquake is felt,” Ms. Bokova said in a press release.

“Immediate self-evacuation is the key to survival for near-field tsunamis. People must know to head for high ground as quickly as possible,” she added.

According to Wendy Watson-Wright, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General and Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), Indonesia’s Tsunami Early Warning System (InaTEWS) issued the first warning to national authorities within five minutes of the under-sea earthquake, allowing many people to take the necessary precautions.

However, because the centre of the earthquake and tsunami was located just a few kilometres off the Mentawai Islands, even the very swift warning from Indonesian authorities could not reach the fishing villages in Pagai or Sipora before the tsunami hit the shore.

“Since 2004, a vast amount of work has been done to establish an effective warning system for the Indian Ocean. We have state-of-the-art equipment in the water that allows us to know very quickly if a tsunami has been generated, and a range of alert mechanisms have been put into place in coastal areas to make sure official warnings reach local populations,” said Ms. Watson-Wright.

“But we still have a great deal of awareness raising and public information work ahead to make sure we go the last mile and reach the most vulnerable communities.”

While no international assistance has been requested, the Indonesian Government welcomes help from its partners and international organizations already there, in coordination with national agencies, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A UN rapid assessment team has been deployed to the affected areas to support the Government, the office added.




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