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Thailand Meeting Fails to Choose Host Country for Tsunami Warning Center
BANGKOK - Representatives from more than 40 countries have failed to agree on the location for a new tsunami and disaster warning center for the Indian Ocean. Thailand's case to host the center faced strong resistance from rivals Indonesia and India.
A two-day meeting of ministers and technical experts from more than 40 countries on the Thai island of Phuket failed to agree Saturday on the location of a regional tsunami early warning center.
Thailand argued it was ideally suited, as it already has a Bangkok-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), which could easily be expanded to include early tsunami warnings for the Indian Ocean.
But the bid was strongly resisted by India and Indonesia, both of which suffered far more damage and loss of life in the December 26 earthquake and tsunami.
No compromise was reached, and a final decision has been deferred.
Bruce Billson, Australia's parliamentary secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, says a decision on a location for the tsunami warning center is "premature."
"There's still some work to be done, and trying to lock down a possible physical location for a regional entity or secretariat is a little premature, given that we're likely to need a number of regional centers working cooperatively with each other," he said.
Experts say that, if an early warning system had been in place when the December 26 tsunami struck, as many as 145,000 lives may have been saved out of the possible 300,000 lost.
Mr. Billson says this has resulted in a "strong political will" to create the warning network.
"It's absolutely clear, there's strong political will across the Indian Ocean region, and more widely at the international level, for the establishment of an early warning tsunami system supporting local communities, as soon as possible," he said.
A blueprint for a tsunami warning system is now expected to be on the agenda at a March meeting in Paris of the International Oceanographic Commission.
Thailand has estimated that the warning system may cost between $50 million and $60 million, and take three years to set up.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a written statement to the meeting, urged that the warning system be integrated to include hazards, such as cyclones and floods.
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