Power to the People

No tsunami warning system could prevent another disaster while so many live without electricity, writes hydrogen fuel cell-proponent, Jeremy Rifkin

Published: 14-Jan-2005

As relatives grieve for the tsunami dead, questions are being asked about why there was no advanced warning so that people could quickly move to higher ground. There was enough time to warn people but because an adequate global warning system was not in place, as many as 200,000 people died needlessly. According to officials, the earthquake, which struck off the coast of Indonesia, was detected immediately by seismic stations around the globe. Australia, which has a tsunami warning system, issued an alert less than half an hour after the earthquake.

The UN disaster reduction office in Geneva calculated the tsunami took a full hour to reach the Indonesian coast, another two hours before reaching Thailand and Sri Lanka, and almost six hours before reaching Africa. What, then, went wrong? The problem, says John Clague, an expert on earthquakes at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, is that "there is no infrastructure to communicate it". Here lies the rub.

While industrialised nations and transnational corporations have been busy connecting the far reaches of the planet into a seamless communication grid to expedite the instantaneous exchange of commercial information, little or no effort has been expended on creating a global communications infrastructure that would warn millions of people about unfolding natural disasters.

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