Doc. 10442

27 January 2005

Europe and the Tsunami Disaster

Opinion1

Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Rapporteur: Mrs Maijlene Westerlund-Panke, Sweden, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the Committee

The Committee on Culture, Science and Education wishes to associate itself with the other Assembly committees involved in this debate in expressing sorrow at the dimension of the disaster and solidarity with all those which were, and still are, affected and in welcoming the generosity of the international community.

We feel that once the basic needs of medical treatment, food and shelter have been secured it will be urgent to ensure that there is no major discontinuity in the schooling of children and young people. The catastrophe should be explained to the general public in order to stop unjustified fears.

Also among the immediate issues is the protection of cultural heritage both from further deterioration and from looting. The damage caused by the tsunami to cultural and natural sites should be properly assessed.

In the longer term, all those living in low coastal areas that might be affected by tsunamis should be taught the basic rules of conduct to follow on such occasions. The extension of the activities of the International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific to other oceans should be investigated. Contingency plans for the protection of vulnerable cultural heritage should be prepared.

The Council of Europe has expressed its readiness to co-operate with the co-ordinating UN bodies and make its scientific, legislative and educational expertise available in the present and future efforts of the international community to cope with the terrible losses and efforts for reconstruction needed in the South East Asia. Its EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement should be instrumental in such co-operation.

Destructive as this catastrophe was, one cannot lose sight of the probability of such an event. Too much resource should not therefore be diverted from more urgent needs into preparations for a repetition of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean which may not happen for quite some time.

The Committee supports the draft resolution presented by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee to which it wishes to present the following amendment:

Amendment

“At the end of the draft resolution, add a new paragraph as follows:

“The Parliamentary Assembly asks the Committee of Ministers to ensure that

i.       the Council of Europe, through its EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement, continues to give priority to initiatives for the development of education, training and information programmes which represent the cornerstone of the risk culture and the foundation of an enlightened risk prevention policy at school, university, vocational training and information;

ii.       the Council of Europe contributes, through strengthened co-operation with UNESCO, to the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development as a whole and specifically to disaster reduction and human security enhancement in both school and out-of-school levels, namely through curricula, textbooks and training of trainers of teachers, including vocational training and awareness raising.”

II.       Explanatory memorandum

      by Mrs Westerlund-Panke

Several areas of competence of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education are relevant for this debate.

Education

Many thousand children and teachers died and many more were displaced. It is essential to ensure that there is no major discontinuity in the schooling of children and young people. Special training should be given to teachers who work with traumatised children.

The Council of Europe, through its EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement, should continue to give priority to initiatives for the development of education, training and information programmes, which represent the cornerstone of the risk culture and the foundation of an enlightened risk prevention policy, at school, university, vocational training, and information.

It should contribute, through strengthened cooperation with UNESCO, to the UN Decade for Sustainable Development as a whole, and specifically to disaster reduction and human security enhancement in both school and out-of-school levels, namely through curricula, textbooks and training of trainers of teachers, including vocational training and awareness raising.

In addition its member states should support international organisations such as UNESCO, which undertook to mobilise its partners in this direction. The catastrophe should be explained to the general public in the areas affected in order to stop unjustified fears. This should be followed by teaching and training on the basic rules of conduct to follow in such occasions whether an early warning system is established in the Indian Ocean or not.

Science

Tsunamis occur in all the major oceans of the world. However, this phenomenon is mainly restricted to the Pacific basin, as it is the most geologically active area on the planet.  The amount of activity in this region makes it much more susceptible to submarine faulting and subsequent tsunami events, whereas the Indian and Atlantic oceans are far less geologically active, with some exceptions, and therefore the occurrence of tsunamis is rare.

The 1946 tsunami that devastated many coastal areas led scientists and governmental agencies to establish the Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS) in 1948.  The main objectives of this system, which, more than 50 years later, remains the only one existing, are: to detect and locate the existence of earthquakes by the use of properly monitored seismographs; to assess whether a tsunami actually exists by measuring water level changes at tide-gauging stations located throughout the Pacific; and finally, to determine the time of arrival of the tsunami and to provide an adequate warning for evacuation procedures.

The earthquake of 26 December 2004 was detected all over the world, the risk of a tsunami was known early enough to warn populations, at least those in Sri Lanka and in the African coast, but there were no means of warning those at risk and some of those who were informed did not know what to do.

It is neither complicated nor too expensive to establish tsunami early warning systems for other oceans and last week in Kobe (Japan) officials from around the world decided to establish a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. UN agencies said they were ready to start work immediately and that such system could be ready in 12-18 months. The Council of Europe’s EUR-OPA Agreement, representatives of which attended the Kobe meeting, could usefully cooperate in this task.

The warning system project will be led, in the initial stages, by UNESCO, with millions of dollars already pledged by Japan, the EU and others. It is yet to be decided exactly who will contribute what, but a network of high-tech buoys anchored to the ocean floor and linked to a regional communications centre will be needed. The US, Germany and Australia have already offered their own technology. Japan has agreed to provide some form of cover in the meantime with information from its own sensors.

Early warning systems however will only succeed in saving lives if the information is correctly analysed and rapidly conveyed to those in charge of alerting the populations concerned and if this alert effectively reaches all those who may be at risk. These involve inhabitants of island where there is no television, radio or telephone as well as fishermen who might be at sea. Good cooperation is needed between the ground stations involved in the warning system.

Heritage

Several cultural heritage sites were damaged by the 26 December tsunami. Among those inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications in Sri Lanka and Mahabalipuram and the Sun Temple of Koranak in India.

Council of Europe member States should support the specific initiatives already taken by the Unesco; the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM); the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS); the International Council of Museums( ICOM); the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA); the International Council on Archives (ICA); the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and the South Asian Network for Young Conservation Professionals (SANEYOCOP).

Contingency plans for the protection of vulnerable cultural heritage should be prepared as the Assembly requested in its Recommendation 1042 (1986) and along the lines of Recommendation No. R (93) 9 of the Committee of Ministers on the protection of the architectural heritage against natural disasters.

Culture

It is interesting to note that the indigenous populations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, one of the regions where the tsunami was most devastating, suffered very little, while many of those who were recent immigrants perished. Based on ancient traditions about “shaking ground” followed by “walls of water” those indigenous populations moved orderly to the highest parts of their islands after the earthquake was felt and were safe when the tsunami hit whereas their compatriots who had stayed below were washed away. Had the ancient traditions been better researched and publicised lives might have been saved.

* * *

Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Referred for urgent debate to the Committee: Reference N 3050 of 24 January 2005

Opinion approved by the committee: 27 January 2005

Secretaries to the committee: MM. Grayson, Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Mr Chahbazian


1 See Doc. 10428 tabled by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee