UNDP helps Pacific nations avert tsunami impacts

24 Mar 2011

image UNDP works on early recovery in the Philippines (Photo: UNDP)

Bangkok -- Within five minutes of receiving alerts about a possible tsunami from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan on 11 March, more than 120,000 of an exposed coastal community in the Philippines, 2,000 kilometres south, were put on stand-by.

While the Philippines’ province of Albay was hit only by non-destructive waves, some 108,000 people in 150 coastal districts were evacuated under a tsunami warning system, part of national disaster management supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“With Pacific rim countries being vulnerable to natural disasters, especially seasonal and hydro-meteorological events, nations in the region have moved forward on their disaster risk reduction plans. This helped to ensure stronger preparedness for the consequences of the Tohoku earthquake,” said Sanny Jegillos, UNDP’s Regional Coordinator for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

The Philippines was one of 28 countries in the Pacific that took part in the first ever region-wide tsunami simulation exercise, carried out in 2006, two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami claimed more than 200,000 lives in the Asia Pacific region.

UNDP has provided US$5 million during the last five years to national agencies in the Philippines for work in 27 disaster-prone provinces aimed at assessing vulnerabilities, developing disaster risk management plans and community-based early warning systems.

Following the 2004 tsunami, UNDP provided the five most affected countries - India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Maldives - a range of support, including technical advice, public and community education, evacuation drills and mapping of safe community facilities for use during emergencies.

UNDP also offered technical and financial support for developing standard operating procedures for tsunami early warning to link regional providers, such as the Hawai’i-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, with national and local authorities.

National governments are responsible for issuing warnings to their citizens through disaster management authorities. These warnings are based on national situation assessments, information received from regional bodies, or a combination of both.

Following the March 11 tsunami warning from the Hawai’i regional centre to the national disaster agency of Papua New Guinea about one hour after the Tohoku earthquake, local authorities along the northern coast had issued 300,000 mobile phone messages as well as radio and television broadcasts.

The area, more than 4,000 kilometres from Japan, was one of four high-risk provinces in Papua New Guinea, where UNDP had supported disaster risk strategies and helped to set up disaster management offices. Minor flooding was reported along some areas of the coast.

UNDP disaster risk specialist, Rabin Narayan Gaudo, was stationed in the country’s national disaster agency control room throughout the 14-hour alert phase supporting the agency in providing updates to international partners.

Since 2004, there have been a number of deadly tsunamis in the region, including south Java (Indonesia) in 2006; Solomon Islands in 2007; Samoa, American Samoa/Tonga in 2009; Mentawai (Indonesia) in 2010.